Nine armed agents of Nigeria’s state security service, an elite police force, arrested Jones Abiri, the publisher of the Weekly Source tabloid newspaper, at his office in Yenagoa, in Nigeria’s oil-rich southern state of Bayelsa, on July 21, 2016, according to news reports. The operatives searched Abiri’s office and confiscated documents, the reports said.
The security service emailed a statement to Nigerian journalists on July 23, 2016 accusing Abiri of being the leader of the separatist group Joint Revolutionary Council of the Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force. In the statement, the security service also said that the publisher had confessed to bombing oil pipelines, planning attacks in the capital Abuja, sending threatening messages to international oil companies, and being the mastermind of a hoax military coup against President Muhammadu Buhari.
CPJ could not confirm that Abiri had made a confession.
Members of Abiri’s family told CPJ they believe his arrest is connected to a July 10, 2016, edition of Weekly Source that republished a report stating the military was contemplating a coup against Buhari. The claim was originally published in June 2016 on the news website Point Blank News.
Abiri’s brother, Wariebi Abiri, told CPJ by telephone in mid-2016 that the allegations against his brother were strange because “[Abiri is] the type of person who stays away from trouble.”
Jackson Ude, the publisher of U.S.-based Point Blank News, told CPJ that since publishing the story he received threats from people he believes are working with the security services, and said he has been asked to remove the story from the website. Ude said he was warned that if he returned to Nigeria he would be arrested.
Another of Abiri’s brothers, Daniel, told CPJ on November 11, 2016, that the family petitioned the Bayelsa State High Court to seek Abiri’s release, but the judge declined to hear the case because lawyers for the state security service said Abiri had committed a treasonable felony and remained a threat to the nation. Daniel Abiri said the security services had not formally charged his brother, and that the family and the journalist’s lawyer have not been able to see or speak with him. Daniel Abiri said his brother is being held at the State Security Service headquarters in Abuja.
John Angese, the Bayelsa state chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, told CPJ the state security service has rebuffed all of the union’s efforts in Abiri’s case.
When CPJ contacted the state security service in July and November 2016, the officers who answered the telephone calls said they were not authorized to speak about Abiri’s case.
In October 2017, the state security service director general, Lawal Musa Daura, did not answer CPJ’s repeated calls.
CPJ has not been able to determine whether authorities have charged Abiri or confirm where the journalist is being held.
“We don’t know where he is and we don’t know what he has been charged for,” Abdulwaheed Odusile, president of the Federation of African Journalists, told CPJ on October 25, 2017. Late in 2017, neither Daniel or Wariebi Abiri answered CPJ’s calls.