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For Immediate Release
18 July 1996

Kakuna Kerina
(212) 465-1004, x103

CPJ Calls For The Immediate Release of Imprisoned Nigerian Journalists

On One Year Anniversary Of Treason Trials International Press Freedom Organization Escalates Campaign

NEW YORK--One year after four independent journalists in Nigeria were convicted of treason by a secret military tribunal, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based nonpartisan, nonprofit organization committed to the defense of press freedom worldwide, condemned General Sani Abacha and his military regime's crackdown on the independent press, and reiterated its call for the release of the journalists.

In June and July of 1995, Christine Anyanwu, editor-in-chief of the now defunct weekly The Sunday Magazine, Weekend Classique editor Ben Charles Obi, Tell magazine assistant editor George Mbah, and TheNEWS editor-in-chief Kunle Ajibade, were among 42 people arrested and charged with treason for their coverage of a suspected coup plot. They were secretly tried by a Special Military Tribunal which did not adhere to Nigerian standard legal procedures, denied the right to appeal, and initially sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. After the ensuing international outcry, the journalists' sentences were commuted to 15 years imprisonment.

"It was this particular act that first suggested the lengths to which General Abacha would go to muzzle the traditionally vibrant independent press in Nigeria," says Kakuna Kerina, Program Coordinator for sub-Sahara Africa. "It is a testament to the fact that, in General Abacha's estimation, the survival of his military dictatorship depends on strategically silencing the press, one of Nigeria's most enduring institutions opposed to military rule."

The four journalists continue to be held in deplorable prison conditions. Anyanwu, who is hypertensive and suffers frequent bouts of malaria, Mbah, who regularly endures epileptic seizures and Ajibade, who has a serious heart condition, are routinely denied medical attention, family visitation and legal counsel.

To focus continuous worldwide attention to General Abacha's relentless assault on the independent media, CPJ is extending its campaign, "Nigeria: The Press Under Siege." To date, the campaign has mobilized CPJ membership, successfully prompted international media coverage, and initiated joint actions with other international press freedom and human rights organizations, while working with Lagos-based journalists, to demand that General Abacha immediately and unconditionally release journalists Anyanwu, Obi, Mbah and Ajibade. CPJ has already forwarded to General Abacha more than 100 signed letters urging the release of the four, as well as that of Tell editor-in-chief Nosa Igiebor (who was released on 24 June) and press freedom/human rights attorneys Chief Gani Fawehinmi and Femi Falana.

In recognition of Igiebor's release after six months of detention without charge, CPJ once again calls on General Abacha to uphold his proclamations of a commitment to true democratic principles by releasing the aforementioned journalists and media advocates.

"If General Abacha's plans for a transition to democracy are to succeed," asserts Kerina, "he must allow the immediate restoration of an independent press which can work freely without fear."

His Excellency General Sani Abacha
Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces
State House

Dear General Abacha:

I write to express my deepest concern for The Sunday Magazine editor-in-chief Christine Anyanwu, Weekend Classique editor Ben Charles Obi, Tell magazine assistant editor George Mbah and TheNEWS editor-in-chief Kunle Ajibade, who have endured deplorable prison conditions since July 1995, when they were convicted of treason for their converage of an alleged coup plot. They were secretly tried by a Special Military Tribunal-which in no way conformed to standard legal procedures, denied the right to appeal, and initially sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, then 15 years.

The persecution of the above-named editors, because of their work as journalists, unquestionably violates Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states, "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas." Nigeria is a signatory to this declaration.

I am heartened by the June 24 release of Tell editor-in-chief Nosa Igiebor. However, his attorney, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, as well as media and human rights attorney Femi Falana, remain in detention since February 1996 without charge.

I urge you to intervene on the side of press freedom and immediately and unconditionally release editors Anyanwu, Obi, Mbah and Ajibade, and media advocates Fawehinmi and Falana.

Finally, I respectfully call on you to uphold your public proclamations of a transition to democracy by ensuring an environment in which journalists may work freely and safely.

I welcome your comments and reply.



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