Amnesty International Stoke Campaign for Abiri’s Freedom

Amnesty International Stoke Campaign for Abiri’s Freedom

Foremost global human rights organisation, Amnesty International (AI) has step up campaign to free detained Nigerian Journalist, Jones Abiri. AI is reaching out to thousands of people across the world via the social media, to sign and endorse a petition demanding the unconditional release of Abiri, the Bayelsa journalist who has been detained for over

Foremost global human rights organisation, Amnesty International (AI) has step up campaign to free detained Nigerian Journalist, Jones Abiri. AI is reaching out to thousands of people across the world via the social media, to sign and endorse a petition demanding the unconditional release of Abiri, the Bayelsa journalist who has been detained for over two years by officials of Department of State Security Services (DSS).

“Are you free to say what you think online? You should be – but in Nigeria, journalists, bloggers and activists are being harassed and arrested. Abiri Jones has been in jail for 2 years with no trial, isolated from his family and lawyer. If we allow the courts to imprison innocent people for trumped up charges, this alarming trend will continue,” AI says in its petition posted on Facebook.

“The most important thing you can do right now is share this as widely as possible. Your voice will have more impact in your community than ours ever could. Whether you share on Twitter, Facebook or Whatsapp – use your influence now to fight for Abiri Jones,” the organisation says as it rallies people to sign the petition in a renewed global campaign for Abiri’s freedom.

Although the Nigerian government initially denied holding any journalist, heightening international campaign for Abiri’s release and the N200 million suit instituted against the DSS by the chambers of human rights Lawyer, Femi Falana on the matter, compelled the DSS to take him to court last week. But the DSS which says it was arraigning frail looking Abiri for his militant activities in the Niger Delta, also bungled the commencement of the trial by not producing any witnesses.

The case had to be adjourned till Thursday, August 16 with Abiri being ordered to be remanded in Keffi prison. Abiri is also facing stringent bail conditions including the requirement to have two sureties who must be very high officers in the civil service.

While decrying the failure of the DSS to produce witnesses against Abiri, thereby stalling his trial, Director of the International Press Centre (IPC), Mr Lanre Arogundade demanded his immediate and unconditional release.

“It was very irresponsible for the DSS to have failed to produce its witnesses after having illegally detained Jones Abiri for two years and therefore effectively stalling his trial,” he says.

The IPC director also notes that the stringent bail conditions imposed by the court were “unacceptable as it would be very difficult for Abiri, who the DSS has labelled a terrorist to get two Level 16 public officers as sureties”.

According to Arogundade, “the attitude of the DSS showed that it did not have any case against Abiri and he should therefore be set free immediately and unconditionally”.

Abiri, a journalist and publisher of the Weekly Source newspaper in Bayelsa State was in 2016 forcefully arrested and thrown into detention by the DSS and held incommunicado until he was rushed to court recently.

Nine armed agents of Nigeria’s state security service arrested Jones Abiri at his office in Yenagoa, in Nigeria’s oil-rich southern state of Bayelsa, on July 21, 2016. The operatives searched Abiri’s office and confiscated documents…

The security service later emailed a statement to Nigerian journalists on July 23, 2016 accusing Abiri of being the leader of the separatist group, Joint Revolutionary Council of the Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force. In the statement, the security service also said that the publisher had confessed to bombing oil pipelines, planning attacks in the capital Abuja, sending threatening messages to international oil companies, and being the mastermind of a hoax military coup against President Muhammadu Buhari.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a non-profit organisation that champions press freedom internationally had in June also called for Abiri’s release. In a letter addressed to Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mr Lai Mohammed and signed by Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director, it demanded that the DSS “be held accountable for its attacks against journalists in Nigeria”.

But the Information Minister said no Nigerian journalist was being detained. “Let me state here, without equivocating, that contrary to the report by the Committee To Protect Journalists (CPJ), no journalist is in detention in Nigeria. Clement Abiri, who is being referred to as a journalist, is not one. He does not belong to any chapel of the Nigerian Union of Journalists. He was arrested for pipeline vandalism and crude theft, including militant activities in the Niger Delta,” he said.

CPJ’s letter, also signed by 19 other organisations, said, “We were disappointed that, after repeated requests during CPJ’s visit to Nigeria in April 2018, we were not permitted to visit Abiri in detention. In a meeting with CPJ on April 24, 2018, Garba Shehu, your presidential spokesperson, confirmed that Abiri remained in DSS custody and said he would be charged in court on allegation of being a militant.  Yet after almost two years behind bars, Abiri has not seen a courtroom, nor has his family been given any information about his health and well-being”.

Members of Abiri’s family told CPJ they believe his arrest is connected to a July 10, 2016, edition of Weekly Source that republished a report stating the military was contemplating a coup against Buhari. The claim was originally published in June 2016 on the news website Point Blank News.

Abiri’s brother, Wariebi Abiri, told CPJ by telephone in mid-2016 that the allegations against his brother were strange because “[Abiri is] the type of person who stays away from trouble.”

Jackson Ude, the publisher of U.S.-based Point Blank News, told CPJ that since publishing the story he had received threats from people he believes are working with the security services, and said he has been asked to remove the story from the website. Ude said he was warned that if he returned to Nigeria he would be arrested.

Another of Abiri’s brothers, Daniel, told CPJ on November 11, 2016, that the family petitioned the Bayelsa State High Court to seek Abiri’s release, but the judge declined to hear the case because lawyers for the state security service said Abiri had committed a treasonable felony and remained a threat to the nation.

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