CPJ Calls for Release of Imprisoned Nigerian
Journalists, End to Persecution of Press

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The following report was prepared after meetings with Nigerian journalists at a
conference organized by the Committee to Protect Journalists in Ghana in August

A hallmark of the military men who have ruled Nigeria in recent years has been their ferocious repression of the country's press, long the most vibrant and independent in Africa. Many of the military's worst atrocities—torture, beatings, indefinite detention without charge, solitary confinement in filthy, unlit jail cells—have been reserved for journalists who dared expose the regime's brutality and rampant corruption.

Since the death in June of Gen. Sani Abacha, the repression of journalists has eased somewhat. But after years of having to resort to underground or "guerrilla" journalism, most journalists consider the current respite nothing more than a temporary breather. While Nigeria's new ruler, Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar, has released a dozen imprisoned journalists, the patterns of persecution persist: One journalist has been arrested and several more were assaulted in three separate incidents since Gen. Abubakar took power. And this month, the regime alleged that a journalist missing since 1996, Bagauda Kaltho of TheNews and Tempo, was the bomber in a 1996 blast at the Durbar Hotel in Kaduna. Managers of TheNews and Tempo vehemently deny the charge, as well as an allegation from local police that the managers themselves were connected to the bomb blast.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has been encouraged by the release of many of the imprisoned journalists in Nigeria—a country that has been one of the world's worst repressors of press freedom. But four journalists remain imprisoned or unaccounted for by the military authorities, and at least 20 government decrees, used by Gen. Abubakar's predecessors to harass and imprison journalists, remain in place. The existence of these decrees means that Nigeria's military rulers—many of whom served in the Abacha and Babangida regimes—can at any moment resume the confiscation of publications, the seizure of editorial equipment, and the use of secret military tribunals to prosecute journalists and impose life sentences.

Gen. Abubakar's military regime also continues to consider a draft constitution that would create a National Mass Media Commission, with broad powers to impose further restrictions on the press. And although it has not yet been used, a press court—set up solely to prosecute journalists and other media professionals—remains in place.

For these reasons, CPJ continues to be deeply concerned about the safety of Nigerian journalists. Of greatest urgency is the fate of the following journalists:

Moshood Fayemiwo, publisher of the now-defunct weekly Razor, who was living in exile in Cotonou, Benin, when Nigerian security agents kidnapped him in 1997 in broad daylight and secretly transported him to Lagos. Fayemiwo reportedly has been tortured and chained to a pipe in solitary confinement. Colleagues confirm he is in very poor health.

Niran Malaolu, editor of the daily newspaper The Diet, who was arrested by military intelligence officials late last year at the newspaper's editorial offices. A special military tribunal tried Malaolu on charges that he was connected with an alleged coup plot. His initial life sentence was reduced to 15 years in July.

Okina Deesor, a producer with Radio Rivers, who was detained in July, 1996, after broadcasting the national anthem of the Ogoni people. To date, Deesor's whereabouts remain unknown.

Chinedu Offoaro, a reporter for The Guardian, who disappeared in May, 1996. State Security Service officials in Nigeria have refused to confirm or deny that they took Offoaro into custody. Colleagues suspect that Offoaro was killed while in detention.

Nigeria's independent press continues to operate under the threat of decrees that have been used to punish dozens of journalists. Among these is State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No. 2 of 1984, which allows indefinite, incommunicado detention of Nigerian citizens, and has been used frequently against journalists. Other decrees that specifically restrict the media are:

Offensive Publications (Proscription) Decree No. 35 of 1993—This decree allows the government to seize any publication that contains an article deemed likely to "disrupt the process of democracy," or to "prevent the progress toward democracy as established by the transition to civil rule programme," or to "disturb the peace and public order of Nigeria."

Treason and Treasonable Offences Decree, Decree No. 29 of 1993—Under the provisions of this decree, a special military tribunal in 1995 convicted four journalists and sentenced them to life in prison, later commuted to 15 years' imprisonment. (All four were released this summer.) The charges stemmed from articles they wrote after an alleged coup plot against Gen. Abacha; by writing about the alleged plot, they were deemed to be "accessories after the fact to treason."

As a nonpartisan organization dedicated to defending our colleagues around the world, the Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Nigeria's military rulers to take immediate steps to free all journalists and eliminate the mechanisms used by past regimes to harass, intimidate, and restrict the press. Specifically, CPJ calls upon Nigeria's military regime to:

* Immediately release Moshood Fayemiwo and Niran Malaolu. Until they are released, their families   and colleagues must be permitted to visit them.

* Investigate the disappearance of journalists Okina Deesor and   Chinedu Offoaro, with a full public accounting of their fates.

* Repeal restrictive decrees used against the press, in particular Decree No. 35 of 1993, and Decree   No. 29 of 1993.

* Abolish the special press court.

* Drop the proposal for a National Mass Media Commission from Nigeria's draft constitution.

* End registration requirements for all Nigerian media houses.