The Amnesty International has launched a report chronicling attacks on the press in Nigeria since 2015.
The report, launched in Abuja on Monday, said at least 19 journalists and media practitioners have been attacked in Nigeria between January and September 2019, the highest since 2015.
Six journalists, including bloggers, were arrested in 2018, while four were arrested in 2017, according to the report.
The report says 16 journalists were arrested in 2016. Five were arrested in 2015.
Eight media houses, including Premium Times, have been raided or harassed since 2015, while three journalists have gone into hiding, the report said.
Reasons for the journalists’ arrest include exposing corruption, election coverage, and social media post critical of a governor or a senator.
The charges preferred against the journalists range from terrorism, sedition, and treason to unlawful assembly, defamation of character, criminal conspiracy, and unlawful assembly.
The report identified the police, the State Security Service (SSS), the military, and the State Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the dreaded arm of the Nigeria police, as state actors involved in the attack on journalists.
The 42-page report which could be downloaded online is titled Endangered Voices: Attack on Freedom of Expression in Nigeria.
Inside the report, are notable incidents like that of Jones Abiri, a journalist based in Yenagoa, Bayelsa state, who was arrested by the SSS and detained for more than two years without trial for publishing a story about oil blocks and politics in Nigeria; Ahmed Salkida, declared wanted by the Nigerian government for publishing an article and a proof of life video of the Chibok schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram, and the police arrest and detention of a Premium Times’ reporter, Samuel Ogundipe, who had refused to disclose his source of information.
The report captured the raid on Daily Trust offices in Abuja, Maiduguri, and Lagos, January this year, by a team of soldiers, SSS officials, and the police, and the demolition of two radio stations – Fresh 105.9FM Ibadan and Breeze 99.9FM in Lafia, Nassarawa state, by agents of state governments.
The recent case of a female journalist in Akwa Ibom, Mary Ekere, who was arrested and thrown into prison for taking photos of state task force officials raiding a shop, also featured prominently in the report.
Amnesty said in the report that the attack on freedom of expression has led to the “shrinking” of civic space in the country.
“The failure of Nigerian authorities to investigate cases of indiscriminate arrest, detention and prosecution of journalists and media practitioners ensures that perpetrators are not held to account for these human rights violations,” the group said.
“Victims who suffered arbitrary arrest and detention told Amnesty International that they were tortured and pressured to write confessional statements, which were used to prosecute them in court.
“While many of them faced indiscriminate charges such as ‘defamation’, ‘terrorism’ and ‘cyberstalking’, others had charges such as ‘kidnapping’, criminal trespass and theft of state documents brought against them. Worse still, many of the journalists were prosecuted under the Cybercrime Act and Terrorism (Prevention) (Amendment) Act 2013, alongside other laws. The Terrorism (Prevention) (Amendment) Act 2013 prescribe the death penalty for those found guilty. Thus making journalism a dangerous venture.
“Under national and international law, Nigeria has an obligation to respect, protect, promote and fulfill the right to freedom of expression and media freedom,” it said.