Jones Abiri, left, pictured leaving a court appearance in Abuja on August 2, 2018. The journalist has been detained for two years. (Ahmad Salkida)
Jones Abiri, left, pictured leaving a court appearance in Abuja on August 2, 2018. The journalist has been detained for two years. (Ahmad Salkida)

Jones Abiri finally in court; Nigeria must release him

New York, August 2, 2018Nigerian authorities should release without delay Jones Abiri, publisher and editor in chief of the Weekly Source newspaper, and drop all charges against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Nigeria’s state security service, known as the DSS, arrested Abiri on July 21, 2016, and has imprisoned him since.

Abiri today appeared in an Abuja magistrate’s court, his second court appearance in a week after two years without trial or family visitation, according to CPJ research. He was arraigned on July 27, according to Femi Falana, the head of the legal office representing Abiri, and Chikezie Omeje, who covered today’s hearing for the non-profit International Centre For Investigative Reporting (ICIR) news agency. Abiri was charged at the first hearing with sending text messages to two oil companies, Shell and Agip, allegedly demanding payments, according to the same sources. CPJ was unable to determine more details of the charges.

A lawyer for the DSS, Jamilu Hamisu, told today’s hearing that the DSS witnesses were unable to attend because they were out of the country, according to Omeje.

“Jones Abiri should never have been arrested and his over two years being held without due process is an outrageous injustice that should be ended without further delay,” Angela Quintal, CPJ Africa Program coordinator, said today from Johannesburg, South Africa. “Nigeria must hold accountable those responsible for Abiri’s detention, including the security service, and send a message that such flagrant abuses against journalists and press freedom will not be tolerated.”

The DSS operates under Nigeria’s coordinator of national security, which reports directly to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, according to Nigeria’s 1986 National Security Agencies Act.

CPJ’s repeated calls to Lawal Daura, DSS Director General, Lai Mohammed, minister of information and culture, and Garba Shehu, presidential spokesperson, went unanswered.

Following the hearing, Abiri was moved from the DSS detention in Abuja to a general prison facility in Keffi, located in Nasarawa state, according to Omeje and an article on the news website Premium Times.

Falana told CPJ that during the July 27 arraignment, bail was set at 2 million naira (US$5,555) and required that two high level civil servants serve as guarantors. During today’s court proceedings, Abiri’s counsel Marshall Abubakar petitioned to have the bail conditions revised, according to the same ICIR report. After the prosecutor appealed, the magistrate set August 8 as the date to decide if bail conditions would be revised, and adjourned the case until August 16, Omeje told CPJ.

On July 3, Falana filed a 200 million Naira (US$555,555) lawsuit against the DSS in federal high court on Abiri’s behalf, accusing the DSS of violating the journalist’s fundamental rights, Falana said. CPJ was unable to determine if a hearing date had been set for the lawsuit.