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For Immediate Release
18 March 1996

Contact:

Kakuna Kerina
(212) 465-1004 x103

CPJ Launches 1996 Campaign,
"Nigeria: The Press Under Siege"

U.S. Press Freedom Group Condemns Attacks
on Nigerian Independent Press



New York--The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today launches its 1996 Nigeria campaign, Nigeria: The Press Under Siege. The campaign will mobilize CPJ members and international press freedom organizations, while working with Lagos-based journalists, to urge Gen. Sani Abacha’s military regime to cease its relentless assault on the country’s independent press.

“Nigeria’s press continues to be targeted by the government, and attacks on journalists and editorial offices have escalated in recent months,” said Kakuna Kerina, CPJ’s program coordinator for Africa. “We are gravely concerned about our imprisoned colleagues’ lives,” she added, “and we condemn the government’s refusal to allow them the internationally mandated human right to medical care, legal representation and family visitation.”

Gen. Abacha is using every weapon in his arsenal to intimidate journalists, including detention without charge; enforcement of military decrees before the secret Special Military Tribunal; assault, interrogation and torture at the hands of police and State Security Service (SSS) agents; editorial office bombings; and the banning and seizure of publications.

The July 1995 conviction of The Sunday Magazine (TSM) editor in chief Christine Anyanwu, Weekend Classique editor Ben Charles Obi, Tell magazine assistant editor George Mbah and TheNEWS editor in chief Kunle Ajibade for coverage of, and alleged complicity in, a suspected coup plot, illuminated the lengths to which the current regime will go to restrict the press. The journalists continue to be held in deplorable conditions in a prison system where, during the past five years, 9,905 prisoners have died from communicable diseases alone.

1995 came to a close with a rash of bombings, seizures and the detention without charge, on December 23, of Nosa Igiebor, editor in chief of Tell magazine and a 1993 recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award. In early 1996, General Abacha’s unprecedented reign of terror against press freedom was expanded to include nonjournalists: Prominent human rights attorneys Gani Fawehinmi and Femi Falana, who represent many members of the country’s independent press, were detained without charge and are still being held in undisclosed locations.

As reported in CPJ’s annual report, Attacks on the Press in 1995, “Nigeria’s 136-year-old press still manages to produce 21 daily and 22 weekly newspapers, and 19 weekly newsmagazines, the majority of which are privately owned. Their struggle to publish and remain financially viable under the current siege is a testament to the professionalism and sheer ingenuity of journalists who manage to work while in hiding, publish with police stationed at printing presses and disseminate information to fellow citizens as police seize entire runs from the newsstands.”

CPJ applauds the World Press Review’s recent choice of Dapo Olorunyomi, editor in chief of TheNEWS, a Lagos-based news magazine as co-winner of the magazine’s 1995 International Editor of the Year Award. The award is given annually to editors working outside the United States, honoring “enterprise, courage, and leadership in advancing the freedom and responsibility of the press, enhancing human rights, and fostering excellence in journalism.” Olorunyomi shares the award with Fred M’membe, managing director and editor in chief of The Post, a Zambian daily newspaper.


We encourage all those interested in participating to sign the attached letter to General Abacha, then mail or fax it to CPJ. CPJ will then forward the protest letters to the State House in Abuja, Nigeria.



His Excellency Gen. Sani Abacha
Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces
State House
Abuja, NIGERIA

Your Excellency:

I support the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a nonpartisan press freedom advocacy group, in its campaign to obtain the release from prison of Nosa Igiebor, editor in chief of the Lagos-based Tell magazine and a recipient of CPJ’s 1993 International Press Freedom Awards. Igiebor was arrested on Dec. 23, 1995, by agents of the State Security Service. He continues to be held in solitary confinement without charge and has been denied legal counsel and family visitation rights.

Igiebor’s imprisonment is a clear violation of Article 19 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.” Nigeria is a signatory to this declaration.

Also in violation of Article 19 is the imprisonment of journalists Kunle Ajibade (TheNEWS), Christine Anyanwu (The Sunday Magazine), George Mbah (Tell) and Ben Charles Obi (Weekend Classique). They continue to be held in deplorable and life-threatening conditions, and have been denied the internationally recognized human right to medical care, legal representation and family visitation.

I respectfully call on Your Excellency to order the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Igiebor and his colleagues and to allow them to resume their journalistic work. Until the time of their release, I also request that you grant them their rights to medical care, legal representation and family visitation.

Lastly, I respectfully call on you to intervene on the side of press freedom and to uphold your public proclamations of support for an independent press by establishing an environment in which journalists may work freely and safely.

I welcome your comments and reply.


Sincerely,




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