Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has condemned in strong terms the detention of two Kwara-based online journalists, Abdulrazaq Aiyelabegan Babatunde and Lukman Oluwatoyin Bolakale, publishers of Just Events Online and Satcom Media, respectively, over a report on the alleged infighting within the ranks of the Kwara State Government.
The right group in a statement by its National Coordinator Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, said that the journalists have been under incarceration at the Kwara State Police command since on Monday (September 11, 2023) over a petition written against them by the immediate past Principal Private Secretary (PPS) to Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, Ms. Monsurah Jumoke Gafar, alleging defamation of character.
The contentious story titled “Gov. Abdulrazaq’s Camp Kicks Against Reappointment of Jumoke Gafar” was extracted from a press release signed by Chief Rotimi Adebowale, which was duly accredited.
The right group expressed dismay over the continuous detention noting that journalists honoured the invite within 2 hours of invitation via phone call by one Sikiru Adedayo of the Anti-Kidnapping and Cultism Unit of the Kwara State Police Command, questioned about the veracity and source of the report, and they promptly informed them of the source of the press release.
72 hours after providing details of the source, rather than police granting them bail, and continuing their possible investigation, the two journalists were arraigned for cyberstalking and conspiracy at a Kwara state Revenue Court presided over by Magistrate A. A. Ajia, which in turn remanded them for 21 days in police custody.
The group finds this act of detention and arraignment to be a gross violation of the fundamental rights of the journalists to freedom of expression and fair hearing as guaranteed by a plethora of fundamental rights provisions in chapter 4 of the Constitution of Nigeria, respectively.
HURIWA also views this act as an attempt to intimidate and silence independent media practitioners who are performing their constitutional duty of holding the government accountable in line with section 22 of the constitution.
The Rights group therefore demands that:
“The Kwara State Government should immediately intervene and ensure that the journalists are released unconditionally without further delay.
“The Kwara State Police Command should respect the rule of law and due process and stop being used as a tool for political vendetta.
“The Kwara State Revenue Court should discharge and acquit the journalists of any charges leveled against them as they have not committed any offense known to law.
“The former PPS to Governor AbdulRazaq should withdraw her petition and apologize to the journalists for causing them undue hardship and trauma.
“The Kwara State Government should ensure that there is peace and harmony among its officials and avoid any internal crisis that could affect its performance and the delivery of dividends of democracy to its people.”