Abuja — Nigerian authorities must immediately release two journalists who have been detained since Monday and allow a third journalist who has fled into hiding to return to his home and work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
In pre-dawn raids on Monday, about 40 armed security agents arrested Aliyu Saleh, a reporter with Al-Mizan, a weekly Hausa-language newspaper, and Musa Muhammad Awwal, the paper's editor, at their homes in Rigasa in the northern state of Kaduna, according to news reports. The agents also confiscated the journalists' phones and money and briefly detained the journalists' wives, news reports said.
Yusuf Idris, the chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, told CPJ that Saleh and Awwal were being held at the headquarters of the State Security Service in Abuja, Nigeria's capital. Idris said the reason for the arrest was still unclear.
Marilyn Ogar, spokesman for the security service, did not immediately respond to CPJ's inquiries.
Later on Monday, security agents raided the home of Al-Mizan Editor-in-Chief Ibrahim Musa, who was not on the premises at the time, according to the daily Premium Times. Musa has since fled into hiding, news reports said.
Musa told the daily Punch that he believed the journalists were being targeted for the lead story in the latest edition of Al-Mizan called "Atrocities of JTF in Potiskum." The story said the Nigerian federal government's Joint Task Force, the special unit combating the insurgency of militant Islamist sect Boko Haram, had allegedly abducted 84 individuals in the northern state of Yobe, he told Punch. The whereabouts of the individuals were still unknown, news reports said. Musa also said the story included pictures of the individuals, who were still missing, and accounts from their family members.
In October, both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International accused the JTF of abusive detention practices, according to news reports. Nigerian security forces denied the allegations, according to news reports
"We condemn the arrests of Aliyu Saleh and Musa Muhammad Awwal, along with the raid at Ibrahim Musa's home, which appear designed to silence coverage of alleged abuses by Nigeria's security agencies," said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita from New York. "We demand the immediate release of these journalists and a halt to the security agencies' efforts to intimidate the press. National leaders must make it clear that security agents are not above the law."