Journalists: Still Endangered Species

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OCTOBER 19, 2016, marked the 30th year Dele Giwa, first editor-in-chief of Newswatch magazine was killed in a letter bomb sent to him by yet to be identified killer. The Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, Lagos council, held a colloquium with the theme: Safety of Journalists and Culture of Impunity in Africa, at the multipurpose hall of Radio Lagos/Eko FM in his remembrance, in partnership with Dele Giwa Foundation.

Prominent human rights activists and well meaning Nigerians used the occasion to repeat their calls to bring his killers to justice.

Lanre Arogundade, director of the International Press Centre, IPC, in his contribution said: “The death of Dele Giwa, has, over the years, shown just how journalists could be endangered. Many other journalists have been killed, and we must not relent in the pursuit of justice for them, and the safety of journalists in Nigeria. Whoever killed Dele Giwa, if they are alive or dead should know this- Dele Giwa’s will always be remembered.”

The occasion also availed some of the attendees to call the attention of Nigerians to the plight of the media across the globe, especially Nigeria.

Indeed, a few Nigerian journalists will not forget 2016 in a hurry.  One of them is Abubakar Usman, a blogger, who was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Monday, August 8, for an alleged cyberstalking.

In a statement by Wilson Uwujaren, EFCC spokesman, on Monday, December 8, the anti-graft agency said Usman, a blogger and social media strategist known for his strong pro-All Progressive Congress, APC, views, was picked from his home in the Abuja suburb of Kubwa that Monday morning and was being quizzed by anti-graft agents.

The EFCC said Usman’s activities contradicted sections of the Cyber Crime Act, but that he had been granted administrative bail and would be released after successfully providing sureties. The statement, was, however, silent on the specific sections of the Cyber Crime Act Usman breached.

The arrest of the blogger sparked condemnation from Nigerians on social media, with the “FreeAbusidiq” hashtag trending on Twitter for most of Monday. If charged, Usman would be the third blogger to be arrested under the Cyber Crime Act, which was signed by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015. Bloggers Seun Oloketuyi and Emmanuel Ojo were arrested in 2015 for offences that allegedly contravened the act.

On Tuesday, December 6, a magistrate court in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital, granted bail to Friday Ogungbemi, a Nigerian journalist, arraigned by the State Security Service, SSS, for writing a story it allegedly considered offensive.

Ogungbemi had spent a week in detention before his arraignment before the court, for allegedly committing offenses bordering on defamation of character in the November 23 – December 15, 2016 edition of the Policy and Lawmakers magazine.

A government official, who asked not to be named because he is not permitted to speak to the media on the matter, alleged that Ogungbemi “wrote an article calling on the two major tribes in the state; Igala and Igbira to start attacking each other.”

The official said Kogi government “is very friendly with the press, but cannot allow irresponsible journalism that is capable of breaching the peace.”

The NUJ in Kogi State, had earlier filed a suit at the Federal High Court, Lokoja, on behalf of the journalist, seeking the enforcement of his fundamental human rights.

The Union also demanded for N5 million damages for unlawful incarceration and infringement on his fundamental rights. J.U. Usman, counsel to the NUJ, filed the motion on notice on the same Tuesday.

It was another kind of suffering for Iyuadoo Tor-Agbidye, a senior editor of Radio Benue, who was abducted on Friday, December 2, from her residence.

Agbidye wife of Achia Tor Agbidye, zonal manager, First City Monument Bank, who was abducted from her home in Makurdi on Friday by four gunmen, regained her freedom on Tuesday, December 8.

Narrating her ordeal to newsmen, the female reporter said that her abductors did not treat her harshly. “My abductors were nice to me. They didn’t harm me, they didn’t shout at me any day. I was led by the Holy Spirit to speak to them and I told them that in this life, the only thing they need is God. I prayed for them.

“I saw that at a point they gave me the liberty to escape so to say. Initially, they were very close to me but this particular day, they were not around me, they provided the window for me to escape,” she said.

Mercifully, Tor-Agbidye was able to regain freedom when she dared to escape from his captors.

Indeed, the number of journalists detained worldwide rose in 2016, an increase related to Turkey where more than 100 journalists and media contributors are in jail, Reporters Without Borders, RSF, said Tuesday, December 13.

“A total of 348 journalists are currently detained worldwide –- six percent more than were detained at this time last year,” RSF said in its annual report. The figure includes bloggers and freelance contributors.

“The number of detained professional journalists in Turkey has risen 22 percent after quadrupling in the wake of the failed coup d’etat in July,” it said.

The number of women journalists imprisoned more than quadrupled over the period (from five to 21).

“This reflects in part the growing role of women in journalism but above all the disastrous situation in Turkey, which currently accounts for a third of the world’s detained women journalists,” RSF said.

“The persecution of journalists around the world is growing at a shocking rate,” Christophe Deloire, RSF secretary general, said in a statement.

“At the gateway to Europe, an all-out witch-hunt has jailed dozens of journalists, and has turned Turkey into the world’s biggest prison for the media profession. In the space of a year, the Erdogan regime has crushed all media pluralism while the European Union has said virtually nothing.”

Aside from Turkey, between them China, Iran and Egypt account for more than two-thirds of journalists imprisoned, RSF said, calling for the creation of a special representative for the safety of journalists directly attached to the office of the UN secretary general.

The number of journalists held hostage fell, however, in the year, with 52, mostly locals, held around the world compared with 61 last year, although RSF said the 2015 number was particularly high.

In 2016, all the hostages were in the Middle East — Syria, Yemen and Iraq — with 21 held by the Islamic State group alone.

RSF said it had identified just one missing journalist in 2016, Burundian Jean Bigirimana, compared with eight last year.

The group considers journalists missing when there is insufficient evidence of their death or kidnapping and no credible claim of responsibility for their death or abduction.

In a separate report released Tuesday, December 13, the Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ, reported that 259 journalists were imprisoned around the world in 2016, 81 of them in Turkey.

Its number is lower because the CPJ only counts journalists detained by the state, while RSF also reports on those held hostage by non-state groups.

The CPJ said the top five countries for jailing journalists are Turkey, followed by China, Egypt, Eritrea and Ethiopia.

For the first time since 2008 Iran does not appear in the top five.

—  Jan 2, 2017 @ 01:00 GMT

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