The rights group, Amnesty International, and other groups have called on Nigeria’s secret police, the SSS, to release a sports journalist, Kufre Carter, from its custody in Akwa Ibom State.
Mr Carter works with a local radio station, XL109.6 in Uyo.
He was arrested on April 27 by the SSS in Uyo and charged with defamation for “castigating” the Commissioner for Health in the state, Dominic Ukpong, over his handling of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in the state.
The SSS has refused to release the reporter, despite being granted bail by the court.
Amnesty International said on May 23 on Twitter that Mr Carter is “unlawfully” detained on the order of the Akwa Ibom government.
The human rights group said lawyers and family have been denied access to the detained journalist. “We are calling on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release him,” the group said.
Also, the International Press Centre (IPC), Lagos, and Socio-Economic Rights And Accountability Project (SERAP) have demanded the release of Mr Carter.
“It is condemnable, totally unaccepted,” the Director of IPC, Lanre Arogundade said of the detention of Mr Carter, in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Monday.
“This impunity against journalists must stop. We have had too many instances of journalists being illegally detained. And then when there is pressure for their release, the court would give them impossible bail conditions as in the case of Kufre.
“And now that the bail conditions have been met there is absolutely no justification whatsoever for him to be held in detention. This is an abuse of office on the part of the state governor and it is not acceptable to us. It is a worrisome trend,” Mr Arogundade said.
SERAP in a statement posted on Twitter, said, “We’re calling on President Buhari to urgently instruct the State Security Service to immediately and unconditionally release sports journalist Kufre Carter detained in the facility of SSS”.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Nigeria, said in a recent statement that they were “alarmed” by the arrest of the journalist.
Mr Carter was granted N3 million bail by the magistrate, but he was unable to meet the bail conditions described by his lawyer as “unrealistic”.
Apart from the N3 million, the journalist was required to provide a surety who must be either a permanent secretary with the Akwa Ibom government or a civil servant of grade level 17, plus a letter from his village head attesting to his identity.
His lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, went to the High Court in Uyo and got the bail conditions reduced, despite opposition by the Akwa Ibom government which was represented by the Attorney-General of the state, Uwemedimo Nwoko.
The court presided by Justice Archibong Archibong agreed with Mr Effiong that the bail conditions set by the magistrate court were “stringent, excessive and unaffordable” and, therefore, ruled that Mr Carter should be admitted to N200,000 bail.
The court also said he should provide a prominent indigene or a businessman within the jurisdiction of the court as a surety.
Mr Effiong, strengthened by his victory at the High Court, returned to the magistrate court, fulfilled the new bail conditions for the journalist, and got an order for his release on Friday.
But his victory turned out to be short-lived as the SSS officials refused to honour the court order which was delivered to them by a police sergeant attached to the court and delegated for that purpose by the magistrate.
Mr Effiong said the SSS refused to release the journalist because the Attorney-General of Akwa Ibom State, Mr Nwoko, wrote a letter to them, instructing the agency not to honour the court order.
Mr Nwoko denied writing any letter to the SSS nor influencing its decision.
He said the SSS acted on the notice of appeal and a motion for stay of execution which he filed at the High Court against the variation of the bail conditions for the journalist.
The SSS spokesperson in Abuja, Peter Afunanya told PREMIUM TIMES, Monday evening, that the agency has followed due process in Mr Cater’s case and that is not true they were taking orders from the Akwa Ibom governor.
“The DSS is a democratically compliant agency. The Service obeys court processes without exception to the case under reference. It has not defaulted and will not,” Mr Afunanya said in a text message in response to the inquiry by PREMIUM TIMES.