Russell Brooks, the spokesman for the US Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, has sent a thinly-veiled warning to Nigerian authorities on the issue of press freedom.
Brooks was speaking yesterday at an event in the Nigerian capital to mark the International Day to End Impunity, Crimes against Journalists organised by the Campaign Against Brutality and for Safety of Journalists in Africa (CABSOJA).
Brooks said: “Journalists must be free to do their jobs without fear of violence or persecution”. He added: “Through a free media, people can be kept informed of the policies and actions of their government” and that “a free press is a core value of the US.”
Brooks’ intervention follows an Amnesty International statement in late September about a “crackdown on journalists” by the government. The statement claimed that: “The escalation in the intimidation of journalists and bloggers over recent months seems to be little more than a barefaced attempt by the Nigerian government to muzzle dissenting voices in the country.”
The statement continued: “There has also been an increase in recent months in arrests of journalists and their subsequent detention without trial.
“In the first week of September the publisher Emenike Iroegbu was arrested in the presence of his family over alleged defamation. In August, Abubakar Usman, a prominent blogger, was dragged from his home by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The anti-graft agency claimed that he was detained for activities that contravened the Cyber Crimes Act even though EFCC could not point out the provisions of the Act the blogger contravened.
“Across Nigeria people, especially journalists and bloggers, are being arrested merely for expressing critical opinions on both conventional and social media platforms. One recent example is the detention of Jamil Mabai, accused of posting comments on Facebook and Twitter critical of the Katsina state government.
“Also, on 5 September, Ahmed Salkida, a Nigerian journalist based in the United Arab Emirates was declared wanted by the military and later arrested by the state security services on arrival in Nigeria. He was among three people arrested and briefly detained for alleged links to Boko Haram and for facilitating the release of a Boko Haram video on the abducted Chibok girls.
“Taken together, these are worrying signs of growing violations of the rights of people in Nigeria to peacefully assemble freely and express their views without the fear of being detained or harassed.”
Amnesty International then called on the government “to comply with its obligations under international human rights law and the fundamental rights provisions in the Nigerian Constitution which guarantee freedom of peaceful assembly and expression. Everyone must be able to express his or her opinion, including through peaceful protest.”