The Coalition for Whistleblower Protection and Press Freedom has called on the Federal Government to immediately release the publisher of the Yenagoa, Bayelsa State-based Weekly Source newspaper, Jones Abiri. He was arrested by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) on July 21, 2016 and has been detained without charge ever since.
The coalition, in a statement, said regardless of the offence, there was no justification for Abiri’s detention without trial.The release, which was endorsed by Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ); International Press Centre (IPC); Media Rights Agenda (MRA); Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ); Premium Times, The Cable, African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL); Daily Trust, Order Paper, Paradigm Initiative, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), noted that Abiri’s continued detention without a court order constitutes a flagrant violation of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and an affront to the rule of law.
The coalition said: “On July 21, 2016, nine armed agents of the DSS arrested Mr. Abiri in front of his office in Yenogoa, during which they searched the office and confiscated various documents.
“The agency subsequently emailed a statement to Nigerian journalists on July 23, 2016 accusing Mr. Abiri of being the leader of the separatist group, Joint Revolutionary Council of the Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force, and claimed that he had confessed to bombing oil pipelines, planning attacks on Abuja, sending threatening messages to international oil companies as well as being the mastermind of a hoax military coup against President Muhammadu Buhari.
“These allegations were shocking to friends and families of Mr. Abiri. They claim repeatedly that he has no connections to militancy in the Niger Delta.”The coalition noted that when the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) contacted the DSS in July and November of 2016, the officers who took the phone calls said they were not authorised to speak on the matter.
It also quoted NUJ president, Mr. Abdulwaheed Odusile, and the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) as telling the CPJ on October 25, 2017 that: “We don’t know where he is and we don’t know what he has been charged for.”
The coalition maintained that it supports a fundamental human rights enforcement suit filed before the Federal High Court, Abuja on behalf of Abiri by human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), wherein he is contending that his (Abiri) being held in the custody of the DSS for about two years amounts to violation of his fundamental human rights.
Filed on July 4, 2018, the suit is praying the court to declare that the detention of the journalist in Abuja without access to his family members, friends and medical doctors “is illegal and unconstitutional.” It is also claiming N200 million in damages.The senior lawyer is hinging his claim on the argument that the detention “violates the applicant’s fundamental rights” guaranteed by Sections 34, 35 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) as well as Articles 11 and 16 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.