New York, July 17, 2017--Nigerian authorities should drop all charges against Luka Binniyat and release the journalist from jail immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. A judge ordered the journalist to be detained on charges of "breach of public peace" and false reporting over an article he wrote for the daily, Vanguard, according to court documents seen by CPJ.
During an arraignment in the city of Kaduna on July 12, Binniyat pleaded not guilty to both charges, his lawyer, James Kanyip, told CPJ. The lawyer said that Binniyat, who is recovering from an accident, arrived at the court on crutches. At the hearing, the judge said he was feeling unwell and ordered Binniyat to be remanded in custody until July 20 to give the judge time to read the journalist's argument, Kanyip said.
The charges are related to a January 24 article that Binniyat wrote for Vanguard in which he alleged that herdsmen killed five students from the College of Education, according to media reports. Kaduna authorities charged the journalist on March 20 under the state's penal code, according to the court documents.
"Charging a journalist with 'breach of peace' simply for informing the public is unacceptable, and arbitrarily throwing him in prison when he appears for a hearing is outrageous," said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal. "Nigerian authorities should immediately release Luka Binniyat and drop all charges against him."
Under the state penal code, Binniyat faces up to three years in prison if convicted of breach of public peace and two years if convicted of false reporting, or "injurious falsehood." The journalist is due back in court July 20, Kanyip said.
Binniyat stopped working for Vanguard after he was first charged over the story. Accounts differ as to whether the reporter resigned or was fired. According to Kanyip and media reports, Vanguard fired Binniyat. The newspaper's editor, Eze Anaba, told CPJ that Binniyat resigned. "The management is reviewing the whole matter, the story, the court case, and the resignation," Anaba told CPJ.
Tensions are high in Kaduna state. Nigeria's military intervened in the region after a series of killings and political and religious tensions in the south, Ibrahima Yakubu, who covers the region for Deutche Welle, told CPJ.
"Binniyat has been a voice against the government for a very long time, especially in respect to the killings that are going on in southern Kaduna," the journalist's lawyer, Kanyip told CPJ.