A sports reporter in Akwa Ibom State, Kufre Carter, has been in detention for seven days at the State Security Service (SSS) facility in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, for allegedly making defamatory remarks against a commissioner in the state.
Mr Carter, 27, works with XL 106.9 FM, a local radio station in Akwa Ibom.
He was arrested on April 27 when he went to the SSS office in Uyo on the invitation of the security agency. His lawyer who accompanied him was turned away by SSS operatives.
Two days after, he was arraigned on a three-count charge at a magistrate court in Uyo and accused of making defamatory remarks against the Commissioner for Health in Akwa Ibom State, Dominic Ukpong.
One of the charges against Mr Carter reads, “That you Kufre Carter Akpan and another now at large sometimes in the month of April, 2020, in Uyo Local Government Area, within the Uyo Magisterial District did record defamatory words against Dr. Dominic Ukpong, the Hon. Commissioner for Health, Akwa Ibom State, while castigating him on the fight against Covid-19 in the state which recording you caused to go viral and be played on social media platforms including Facebook, WhatsApp and other places with the intent to injure his reputation by exposing him to ridicule, hatred and contempt knowing same to be false and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 382(1) and punishable under Section 388 of the Criminal Code, Cap 38, Vol. 2 Laws of Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria”.
The court, presided by Winifred Umohandi, granted Mr Carter N3 million bail after he pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The court ruled that Mr Carter should provide a surety who is either a permanent secretary with the Akwa Ibom State government or a civil servant on grade level 17, in addition to providing a letter from his village head attesting to his identity.
The reporter, unable to meet the bail conditions, is still being detained at the SSS facility.
Mr Carter’s lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, said he believes that his client is being tortured by SSS officials and that they have been prevented from having access to him.
“From all indications, we reasonably believe that SSS officers are torturing Mr. Kufre Carter in their custody in their effort to extract a ‘confessional statement’ from our client,” Mr Effiong said in a statement. “The SSS is torturing our client for him to handover his private mobile phone to them.”
“The Director of Operations also told us that they invaded our client’s residence to look for his phone but did not find it.”
Before Mr Carter’s arrest, his employer, XL 106.9 FM, had issued a statement disowning him over the alleged defamatory remarks.
Mr Carter’s lawyer said they are “reviewing” what legal actions to take against the radio station.
The Sports Writers Association of Nigeria, Akwa Ibom chapter, has demanded Mr Carter’s release from detention.
Mr Carter’s arrest joins the growing cases of clamp down on social media commentary in Akwa Ibom.
One George Udom was recently arraigned in Akwa Ibom at the same magistrate court for defamation after he wrote on Facebook that nine commissioners in Governor Udom Emmanuel’s cabinet tested positive for the coronavirus.
The magistrate, Mrs Umohandi, abruptly adjourned proceedings after Mr Udom continuously sneezed in the courtroom. She ordered him to be isolated for 14 days in the hospital for health workers to ascertain if he was positive or not for COVID-19.
The governor said Mr Udom’s Facebook post was completely false and intended to cause panic in the state.
A lecturer in the Akwa Ibom State University and an administrative officer in the same university were also charged in the state recently, for publishing alleged defamatory remarks on Facebook against the university vice-chancellor, Eno Ibanga.