New York, June 27, 2019 -- The Committee to Protect Journalists today urged Nigerian authorities to release journalist Jones Abiri and drop cybercrime, anti-sabotage, and terrorism charges against him.
Abiri, editor-in-chief and publisher of the Weekly Source newspaper, is scheduled to appear tomorrow morning at the federal high court in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, according to his lawyer, Samuel Ogala, who spoke to CPJ by phone.
The current federal case against Abiri matches allegations made by Nigeria's Department of State Security in 2016 after which he was held without charge or access to family or a lawyer from July of that year until he was released in August 2018, and prosecuted under separate charges in an Abuja magistrate court, according to CPJ research from the time.
The prosecution in the case requested to grant anonymity to at least six individuals expected to testify against Abiri, a request that Ogala challenged today, he told CPJ. The lawyer told CPJ that such anonymity would make it impossible "to know if they are actually witnesses or people who have just been brought to lie against him."
The presiding judge is expected to rule on the witness protection request tomorrow, Ogala said.
"It is outrageous that the Nigerian government is now seeking to keep secret their alleged witnesses against Jones Abiri," Angela Quintal, CPJ Africa Program Coordinator said today. "Nigerian authorities should drop the charges against Jones Abiri and leave him to lead his life and work in peace."
The journalist was arrested on May 22, as CPJ reported at the time. He has been detained in Kuje prison in Abuja since his arrest, and was eligible for bail on June 24, but was unable to meet its conditions, which required that a landowner who had payed taxes since 2016 to stake a 100 million Naira ($277,777) bond.
Aminu Kayode Alilu, chief federal counsel and lead prosecutor in the case, told CPJ in a phone call that the charges were linked to evidence presented to the attorney general's office this year, and were unrelated to Abiri's journalism. He declined to comment on the witness anonymity request.
CPJ's calls and messages to Peter Afunanya, a spokesperson for the Department of State Security, went unanswered.