Police in Nigeria’s northern Kaduna state arrested Luke Binniyat, a journalist who contributes to the U.S.-based outlet The Epoch Times, in November 2021, in response to a complaint filed by a government minister. He was denied bail and remained in pretrial detention as of December 1.
Binniyat is a freelance journalist and a spokesperson for the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU), a local rights group, according to SOKAPU President Jonathan Asake, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview, and Binniyat’s biography on the Epoch Times website.
The Epoch Times is a U.S.-based international news outlet affiliated with the Falun Gong religious movement; in Nigeria, it covers local news stories and often reports on religious and ethnic minorities.
On November 4, 2021, police officers arrested Binniyat at the SOKAPU office in Barnawa, a town in Kaduna state, following a complaint filed against the journalist by Samuel Aruwan, the state’s commissioner for internal security and home affairs, over an October 29 Epoch Times report by Binniyat, according to a report by The Epoch Times, Asake, and Binniyat’s lawyer, Ehizogie F. Imadojemu, who spoke with CPJ by phone.
The officers held Binniyat at the police headquarters in Gabasawa, in northern Kaduna state, until November 8, when they brought the journalist to a magistrate court where he was charged with cybercrime and ordered to be detained at a local prison, according to Asake and Imadojemu.
Binniyat was charged under Section 24 (B) of Nigeria’s Cybercrimes Act, according to Asake, Imadojemu, and CPJ’s review of that law. That section criminalizes using computers or other devices to transmit information that the sender “knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another or causes such a message to be sent.”
If convicted, Binniyat could face up to three years in prison and a fine of 7 million naira (US$17,049), according to Imadojemu and CPJ’s review of the law.
Binniyat’s October 29 Epoch Times report criticized the Kaduna state government’s response to recent killings of Christians and quoted Senator Danjuma Laah as saying that Aruwan had been involved in concealing facts around a “genocide against Christians in the Southern Kaduna State.”
The report also alleged that police had failed to make arrests one month after 38 unarmed farmers were killed in Madamai, a predominantly Christian community.
Doug Burton, a freelance editor for The Epoch Times who worked with Binniyat on the October 29 story, told CPJ by phone that Binniyat wrote the report in his capacity as reporter for the news outlet, not as a spokesperson for the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union.
On November 9, Binniyat was arraigned and the court denied his bail application, according to Imadojemu and another report by The Epoch Times. Asake told CPJ that Binniyat was denied bail because the judge said that the court did not have jurisdiction over the matter and then adjourned proceedings until November 23. On that day, Binniyat’s bail application was heard again at the magistrate court, but was not granted and the case was adjourned until December 6, Imadojemu said.
Imadojemu visited Binniyat at the Kaduna State Maximum Custodial Center on November 16 and told CPJ that the journalist’s condition was good.
When CPJ called Aruwan for comment, he said that the comments attributed to Laah in the October 29 article were false and that they had put him and his family in grave danger. Also reached by phone, Alfred Borg Audu, Laah’s special adviser on intergovernmental affairs, denied that Laah had made those comments.
CPJ called and texted Kaduna state police spokesperson Mohammed Jalige for comment, but did not receive any reply.
Authorities previously detained Binniyat in 2017 for alleged breach of peace and false reporting after he published a story in the Vanguard news website about five murders, as CPJ documented at the time.