U.S. Congress to DSS: Stop harassing, detaining journalists, activists
…obey court orders, Nigerian constitution
…continued detention of Sowore, others, use of force affecting Nigeria’s image
The Congress of the United States has expressed deep concern and worry about what it called closing of media and civic space in Nigeria with a growing record of security services assaulting and detaining journalists.
The Congress noted that the journalists, unarmed, have been using non-violent means to express their views and exercising their fundamental constitutional rights.
On the other hand, the State Security Services have been “excessive force on non-violent protestors and taking other actions that inhibit freedom of expression.’’
In a letter to Ambassador Sylvanus Nsofor, Head of Mission, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Washington, U.S., the Congress said journalists such as Omoyele Sowore, Jones Abiri, Kofi Bartels, Samuel Ogundipe and others who were investigating speaking out about “politically sensitive problems in the country like corruption or insecurity have been harassed and detained.
“There are reports that some of them have even been tortured. In at least one instance, the DSS has ignored a court order to release a detained activist.
“Restrictions and deadly crackdowns on non-violent protests since 2015 have similarly reflected a lack of apparent commitment to civic freedoms which is beginning to negatively impact the image of Nigeria’s government, both at home and abroad.
“For instance, security forces used live ammunition Shiite procession in in Kaduna State in 2018; on protestors in Onitsha, Anambra in 2016; again on a Shiite procession in Abuja in 2018.
“Raided the offices of the Daily Trust and arrested the editor in January 2019; shot and killed Precious Owolabi, a journalist covering a July 2019 protest in Abuja.
“These crackdowns have collectively killed hundreds of Nigerian citizens and serve as troubling demonstrations of the excessive force used by the military.
“The alleged perpetrators of the abuse have yet to be brought to justice,’’ Congress said in the letter signed by U.S Senator Robert Menendez, a copy of which was obtained by Persecondnews in Washington on Wednesday.
The Congress noted that “Nigeria has a critical role to play in preserving peace and stability in West Africa and as the most populous democracy on the continent.’’
“It should serve as a shining example of how countries can best observe the rights enshrined in the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.’’
It, however, warned that failure to respect the rights in the Charter and those in Nigeria’s own constitution would undermine the nation’s ability to lead the continent.
“We urge you (the Ambassador) to ensure that the rights and liberties contained in the constitution are observed for all citizens and to take strong action against further closing space for journalists, political opposition, and those in civil society.
“The rights of all citizens must be respected without the threat of government reprisal.’’