The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has condemned in strong terms the detention of two Kwara-based online journalists, Abdulrazaq Aiyelabegan Babatunde and Lukman Oluwatoyin Bolakale, publishers of Just Events Online and Satcom Media, respectively.
The journalists have been under incarceration at the Kwara State Police command since Monday (September 11, 2023) over an alleged petition written against them by the immediate past Principal Private Secretary (PPS) to Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, Ms. Monsurah Jumoke Gafar, alleging defamation of character.
The contentious story titled “Gov. Abdulrazaq’s Camp Kicks Against Reappointment of Jumoke Gafar” was said to have been extracted from a press release signed by Chief Rotimi Adebowale, which was duly accredited.
The journalists were allegedly invited via phone call by one Sikiru Adedayo of the Anti-Kidnapping and Cultism Unit of the Kwara State Police Command, an invitation they honored within 2 hours.
They were questioned about the veracity and source of the report, and they promptly informed them of the source of the press release.
According to a statement signed by Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, National Coordinator, “Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA), HURIWA is of the considered opinion that, having availed the police of the details, including the phone number and position of the source, the police have yet to effect an arrest, while the journalists remain in police custody.
“72 hours after providing details of the source, rather than police granting them bail, and continuing their possible investigation, the two journalists were arraigned for cyberstalking and conspiracy at a Kwara state Revenue Court presided over by Magistrate A. A. Ajia, which in turn remanded them for 21 days in police custody.
“HURIWA gathered that the continued detention of the two journalists, despite availing the police details of the source of the news report, is not unconnected with continuous pressure being pulled by opposing forces within Gov. AbdulRazaq’s camp.
“The contentious report suggests that some forces within the governor’s camp who sponsored a petition against the former PPS do not want Gafar to be reappointed as the PPS to the governor, while the PPS is also struggling to get back at her antagonists within the governor’s camp, using the journalists as pawns in the power play.
“They were arraigned in Revenue Court on Wednesday and remanded for 21 days in police custody. We already applied for bail, which was supposed to be heard on Friday, but the magistrate refused to show up, a source confided in HURIWA at the Weekend,” it stated.
The group said it finds the act of detention and arraignment to be a gross violation of the fundamental rights of the journalists to freedom of expression and fair hearing as guaranteed by a plethora of fundamental rights orovisions in chapter 4 of the Constitution of Nigeria, respectively.
HURIWA also views this act as an attempt to intimidate and silence independent media practitioners who are performing their constitutional duty of holding the government accountable in line with Section 22 of the constitution.
The Rights group therefore demands that:“The Kwara State Government should immediately intervene and ensure that the journalists are released unconditionally without further delay.
“The Kwara State Police Command should respect the rule of law and due process and stop being used as a tool for political vendetta.
“The Kwara State Revenue Court should discharge and acquit the journalists of any charges leveled against them as they have not committed any offense known to law.
“The former PPS to Governor AbdulRazaq should withdraw her petition and apologize to the journalists for causing them undue hardship and trauma.
“The Kwara State Government should ensure that there is peace and harmony among its officials and avoid any internal crisis that could affect its performance and the delivery of dividends of democracy to its people.
“HURIWA stands in solidarity with all journalists who are facing persecution or harassment for doing their job. We will continue to advocate for press freedom and human rights in Nigeria. The group urges all Nigerians to join us in this struggle for justice and democracy.”