Detained journalist sues Akwa Ibom government, DSS

SSS Officials

Hearing on the application comes up on Monday.

The management of Wealthrange Nigeria Limited, publishers of Global Concord Newspapers, has dragged the Akwa Ibom State government and the State Director, Department of State Security, DSS, to court for the continued detention of its Editor, Thomas Thomas.

Mr. Thomas, whose newspaper is known for its critical views on the Akwa Ibom State government, was abducted on Tuesday last week by armed government security operatives in Uyo, the state capital.

About 48 hours later, he was arraigned secretly before a Uyo Magistrate Court, without any legal representation, on a three-count charge of using his medium to commit acts purportedly contravening the Akwa Ibom State Internal Security and Enforcement Law 2009.

But, in a legal application filed at the Federal High Court, Uyo, the management of the newspaper accused the State Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Ekpeyong Ntekim; the State Director of DSS, Tomas Minti; and the Chief Magistrate of Uyo Magistrate Court, Uwem Ibritam, of conspiring to violate the editor’s fundamental rights.

In the application No. FHC/UY/CG/57/2014, filed on Monday on behalf of the Editor and Global Concord management, counsel to the applicants, Victor Iyanam, sought a declaration of the court that the arrest, detention, and torture of Mr. Thomas and the persistent harassment of the newspaper constituted a gross violation of their fundamental rights enshrined in Sections 34, 35 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution.

The applicants also asked the court to declare that the purported arraignment of Mr. Thomas on charge No. MU/389c/204 for the sole purpose of remanding him in prison also constituted an infringement of his right to liberty guaranteed under Section 35 of the Constitution.

While seeking the court’s declaration that the detention of the journalist by the DSS against his will was unlawful, illegal and an abuse of the powers, the applicants also demanded N50 million as general and exemplary damages for the infringement of Mr. Thomas’ fundamental rights.

The applicants also asked for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the trio and their agents from re-arresting Mr. Thomas or the staff of Global Concord, as well as any other order as the court may deem fit.

In an affidavit, the Chairman, Editorial Board of the paper, Unyime Ekwere, accused the trio of arresting and detaining Mr. Thomas in illegal and unconstitutional circumstances.

Mr. Ekwere said the Chief Magistrate also acted illegally by charging the journalist, and also issuing the order for him to be remanded in the custody of the SSS and the file sent to the DPP for action without bail and without a return date, despite knowing that the magistrate court lacked jurisdiction over the matter.

He said that the action of the Chief Magistrate appeared strange to him, since the DPP, Usen Usen, appeared in court in person and also signed the three-count charge sheet.

According to Mr. Ekwere, the management of Global Concord was convinced that the Magistrate had no jurisdiction to entertain any case brought pursuant to the provisions of the Akwa Ibom State Internal Security and Enforcement Law, 2009, on which only the High Court has exclusive jurisdiction.

The law was enacted in 2009 at the height of the kidnapping incidents in the state as a way of combating the malaise.

Mr. Thomas was charged under Section 6(1) (e) and (f) and (2) of the law and faces 14 years imprisonment if found guilty.

Mr. Ekwere expressed shock that Mr. Thomas was arrested, detained, and kept incommunicado from colleagues and family despite being a law abiding citizen who practiced his journalism profession with every sense of responsibility.

“I am shocked and disappointed that the Government of Akwa Ibom State has chosen to harass and intimidate journalists under a law that was promulgated to deter kidnapping and other forms of terrorism, whereas no person has ever been genuinely charged and convicted for kidnapping and allied offences,” Mr. Ekwere stated.

He said his suspicion was that the sole purpose of charging the journalist to the Magistrate Court was to facilitate his detention without trial, to cause him incalculable inconvenience, knowing that it would take a while before his application for bail would be brought to court.

Worried that Mr. Thomas has been seriously traumatized as a result of excessive torture in the custody of the DSS, and his denial of opportunity to receive visitors, Mr. Ekwere said all acts aimed at stopping further publication of Global Concord Newspapers was an attempt to kill the freedom of the press in Akwa Ibom.

He demanded that Mr. Thomas be granted bail in the interest of justice and the rule of law.

Hearing on the application has been fixed for Monday next week.


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