(en) Appeal to CHOGM for FoE in Nigeria (fwd)

Saul Chernos (schernos@freenet.toronto.on.ca)
Fri, 17 Oct 1997 15:25:50 -0400 (EDT)

A AA AAAA The A-Infos News Service AA AA AA AA INFOSINFOSINFOS http://www.tao.ca/ainfos/ AAAA AAAA AAAAA AAAAA

Saul Chernos schernos@torfree.net

---------- Forwarded message ---------- Date: Fri, 17 Oct 1997 13:26:36 -0400 (EDT) From: Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists <ccpj@web.net> To: canpress@web.net Subject: Appeal to CHOGM for FoE in Nigeria

IFEX - News from the international freedom of expression community _________________________________________________________________


17 October 1997

31 press freedom groups appeal to CHOGM over Nigeria, noting freedom of expression violations

SOURCES: Independent Journalism Centre (IJC), Lagos Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists (CCPJ), Toronto

The following is a joint letter signed by 31 press freedom groups worldwide to the leaders attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Edinburgh, Scotland on 24-27 October, calling attention to the numerous violations in Nigeria against freedom of expression. In light of these violations and the seemingly doomed transition to democracy, the undersigned press freedom groups are calling for Nigeria to be expelled from the Commonwealth, or at the very least, have its suspension continued. The letter is to be circulated to Commonwealth leaders at the meeting, and members and subscribers are encouraged to disseminate it to their own governments and the media. Anyone attending the CHOGM is encouraged to take copies of the letter as well.

** ** **

17 October 1997

Dear Commonwealth leaders,

On the occasion of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Edinburgh, Scotland on 24-27 October, we, the press freedom organisations listed below, would like to draw your attention to the numerous violations in Nigeria against freedom of expression, one of the most basic human rights. In light of Nigeria's failure to satisfy the conditions set out by the CHOGM, Nigeria should be expelled from the Commonwealth, or at the very least, have its suspension continued.

It has been two years since the Nigerian government judicially executed the Nigerian author and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists. Not only has Nigeria's human rights record not improved, but it has deteriorated even more. In addition, political prisoners, including four prominent journalists, remain in jail in abysmal conditions. Dissent is stifled on an almost daily basis despite the efforts of the dictatorship of General Sani Abacha to promote the deception that he is following through with the so-called transition to democracy. A transition to democracy should surely include freedom of expression, and given the current crackdown on the media, the international community can not be fooled into believing it is a genuine transition.

Upon suspending Nigeria for its lack of democratisation, respect for human rights, and progress in the release of political prisoners, the CHOGM stated "that if no demonstrable progress was made towards the fulfilment of these conditions within a time frame (of two years), Nigeria would be expelled from the association." The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), charged with advising the Commonwealth on Nigeria, has found no improvement on these fronts.

Beyond the discussion of broader human rights abuses, freedom of expression violations are rampant in Nigeria. Newspapers are seized and news vendors - as well as journalists - are thrown in jail for publishing or selling news that offends the government. Many journalists have fled the country in fear of their lives, and other journalists have simply "disappeared." Among Nigeria's most famous political prisoners are four journalists: Chris Anyanwu of the now-defunct "The Sunday Magazine", George Mbah of "Tell", Ben Charles Obi of "Weekend Classique" and Kunle Ajibade of "The News". All have been in prison since May 1995, sentenced to 15 years for their alleged involvement in a failed coup plot - their "crime" was to report on the issue. All of them are in very poor health. Another journalist, Mohammed Adamu, the Abuja editor of the "African Concord" magazine, is detained without charge. Moshood Fayemiwo, the exiled publisher of the defunct Lagos weekly "Razor", was abducted from neighbouring Benin Republic and has been detained in a military dungeon since February 1997.

Since the beginning of September, many journalists and news vendors have been detained over stories in independent publications on the state of Abacha's health. Police arrested or tried to arrest journalists from "The News" and "Tell" in Lagos and other cities, and confiscated copies of "The News", and their editors have now gone into hiding. On 5 September, Oby Eke Agbai, the chair of the Imo state council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists "disappeared" after being beaten by security forces and has not been seen since. A correspondent for "The Punch" newspaper was arrested over a story on Ken Saro-Wiwa, as was a "Vanguard" correspondent in Rivers State for reporting that copies of Saro-Wiwa's books had been impounded by security forces. Most recently, on 5 October, Reth Ateloye, of "FAME" magazine, died after developing an illness in jail after being detained for five days on 17 September. The other violations are too numerous to document.

In addition to attacks on the media, the Nigerian government has implemented press laws which severely restrict the media, and has introduced new laws, including one which would create a press court that would try journalists who "report untruths." The Newspapers Registration Decree 43 of 1993, which the government has promised to revive, would impose prohibitive fees on an independent press which struggles to survive economic pressures from the government, and would allow the government to assert control over which newspapers receive licenses. A provision in the draft constitution proposes a National Mass Media Commission, which will restrict newspaper circulation to their states (provinces) of production and interfere in the day-to-day running of media organizations.

The Nigerian government has failed to demonstrate that it is serious about the transition to democracy; conversely it has attempted to silence those who promote democracy. Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka is one of the many exiled advocates for democracy in Nigeria, in addition to prominent editors and journalists who have escaped arrest and fled their home. Adding to this injustice were treason charges laid against Soyinka and others by the government in March in the wake of bombings for which Soyinka denies any responsibility. These charges demonstrate the lengths to which the government will go to silence its critics. Given the unfair trial afforded to Ken Saro-Wiwa, there is little reason to believe Soyinka would be given a fair trial on these charges.

By the recently promulgated Decree 9 of 1997, the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) was empowered to shift the dates of the remaining transition elections if it so desires. None of the five registered political parties is willing to present candidates for the presidency - a few politicians who hinted of presidential ambitions have been effectively harassed and silenced. In late September, the army command issued a statement that it would give General Abacha absolute support if he chooses to run for the presidency. Everything points to a perpetuation of military rule or a self-succession plan that makes the "transition to democracy" a name without substance.

In light of these freedom of expression violations, this silencing of dissent and the voice of democracy, coupled with the continued detention of political prisoners, the CHOGM should have little difficulty taking the right decision against the Nigerian government.

Yours sincerely, Independent Journalism Centre (IJC), Nigeria Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists (CCPJ) Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), United States Free Expression Ghana Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), South Africa Freedom House, United States Human Rights Watch (HRW) International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Belgium International PEN, United Kingdom International Press Institute (IPI), Austria Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Namibia Network for the Defence of Independent Media in Africa (NDIMA), Kenya Norwegian Forum for Freedom of Expression (NFFE) Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), Fiji Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) PEN American Center PEN Canada West African Journalists Association (WAJA), Senegal/Ghana World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), United States Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN, United Kingdom African Writers Abroad, United Kingdom English PEN Centre Ghanaian PEN Centre Kenyan PEN Centre Malawi PEN Centre The New Zealand Society of Authors, incorporating PEN New Zealand Inc. Scottish PEN Centre South African PEN Centre Swiss German PEN Centre PEN Centre USA West

** ** **

For further information, contact Akin Akingbulu, IJC, Box 7808, Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria, tel/fax: +234 1 4924998/4924314, e-mail: ijc@linkserve.com.ng; or the CCPJ, 490 Adelaide Street West, suite 205, Toronto, Ontario M5V 1T2 Canada, tel: +1 416 703 1638, fax: +1 416 703 7034, e-mail: ccpj@web.net, Internet: http://www.web.net/ccpj/. _________________________________________________________________ DISTRIBUTED BY THE INTERNATIONAL FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION EXCHANGE (IFEX) CLEARING HOUSE 490 Adelaide St. W., suite 205, Toronto (ON) M5V 1T2 CANADA tel: +1 416 703 1638 fax: +1 416 703 7034 e-mail: ifex@web.net Internet site: http://www.ifex.org/ _________________________________________________________________

****** A-Infos News Service ***** News about and of interest to anarchists

Subscribe -> email MAJORDOMO@TAO.CA with the message SUBSCRIBE A-INFOS Info -> http://www.tao.ca/ainfos/ Reproduce -> please include this section