Abuja — The Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Dr. Chidi Odinkalu , saturday in Abuja called on the State Security Service (SSS) to release two journalists arrested last Monday.
Report had it that on Friday, December 21, Al-Mizan, a Hausa language newspaper published in Kaduna ran a story alleging that operatives of the Joint Task Force (JTF) had rounded up 86 youths in Potiskum, Yobe State. The story was also posted on Al-Mizan's website www.almizan.info.
Around 4am on Monday, December 24, two Al-Mizan workers, Musa Mohamed Awwal and Aliyu Saleh, were respectively picked up and taken away by heavily armed security operatives from their residences in Kaduna to undisclosed destinations. During the operation to take them away, both men were allegedly assaulted by the security operatives.
In a statement, Odinkalu said that SSS and other security agencies in Nigeria were obligated to comply with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in carrying out their important duties.
He called on the SSS to ensure the arraignment of the Al-Mizan journalists presently in their custody, if investigations had disclosed their complicity in any crimes or release them promptly.
He also requested the SSS to allow the detained journalists access to their families, medical attention or other legal representatives.
"This statement also transmits a request and an offer to the SSS to allow the National Human Rights Commission access to the detained journalists to independently verify their state of health and conditions of detention," Odinkalu said in the statement .
According to him, sections 35(4)-(5) of the 1999 Constitution require all persons arrested by the security agencies to be arraigned not later than 48 hours or within "such longer period as in the circumstances may be considered by the court to be reasonable."
He said: "Under the Constitution, any detention beyond 48 hours must be authorised by a court. The constitution also requires humane treatment of detainees and suspects.
"The continued detention of these two journalists without information as to their whereabouts, crimes for which they are suspected (if any), or conditions of their detention, does not pass constitutional muster."
He also described the circumstances under which the journalists were arrested. "At the residence of Musa Mohamed Awwal, his wife was also allegedly assaulted as she sought to find out the identities and authority of those who came to take away her husband.
"An adult son, who suffers from sickle cell and was also in the house at the time, was allegedly also assaulted before Musa Mohammed Awwal was taken away."
"From the residence of Musa Mohammed Awwal, the security operatives allegedly took with them a lap-top computer and eight cellular telephone hand-sets belonging to different members of his family. From the residence of Aliyu Saleh, they also allegedly took away cellular hand-sets.
"The security operatives reportedly did not identify themselves and did not directly accuse the two workers of any crimes during the course of this operation to take them away.
"On the same day, also in Kaduna, another set of security operatives visited the residence of the Editor of Al-Mizan, Ibrahim Musa, which was subsequently ransacked. Following the visit by the security operatives, a lap-top computer and modem were allegedly found missing, presumed to have been taken away by the security operatives. There was no search warrant shown to anyone on the premises before or during this visit. Ibrahim Musa remains in hiding.
"Following these security operations, the workers at Al-Mizan went around the various police stations in Kaduna to look for their colleagues. The Police denied holding them and sent around signals seeking confirmation as to their whereabouts.
The SSS in Kaduna State subsequently confirmed that the operation had been undertaken by the SSS and that the two workers had been transferred to the SSS headquarters in Abuja. They have, however, not been granted access to anyone - family or other representatives."