New York — Nigerian authorities must investigate and hold accountable the police officers responsible for allegedly assaulting and threatening journalist Kofi Bartels, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On June 5, a group of at least five police officers punched and kicked Bartels, a reporter with the privately owned Nigeria Info radio station, beat him on the knees with pieces of wood, and arrested him for filming them, according to the journalist, who spoke with CPJ on the phone and posted about the attack on Twitter.
At the police station, an officer told Bartels that the journalist had "been giving them problems for a long time," citing Bartels' work covering the police in Rivers state, and said that they would put the journalist in a prison cell with an inmate who would rape him, Bartels told CPJ.
The officers did not charge Bartels with a crime, and released him at about 2 p.m., after the intervention of their former commander, about four hours after the incident began, Bartels said. Bartels told CPJ he went to the hospital after he was released, where doctors examined his bruised knees and recommended he receive x-rays of his neck and spine, which he is scheduled to undergo tomorrow.
"The police officers involved in this horrific alleged assault against Kofi Bartels must be swiftly brought to justice," said Angela Quintal, CPJ's Africa program coordinator, in Johannesburg. "The initial assault of a reporter documenting police behavior, compounded by the brazen retaliation for past reporting, is a chilling example of a gravely consistent pattern of Nigerian security services' violence against journalists."
Bartels said the incident began when he was filming the officers, whom he identified as members of Nigeria's Special Anti-Robbery Squad, beating a boy outside Bartel's home in Port Harcourt. The officers saw him filming, beat him, and brought him to the robbery squad's headquarters where, after learning that Bartels had a history of reporting on the police, threatened him and beat him again with their hands and wooden sticks, he told CPJ.
Nnamdi Omoni, spokesperson for the Rivers state police, told CPJ over the phone today that five men from the Special Anti-Robbery Squad were under investigation for the alleged attack against Bartels, but that they denied wrongdoing. Omoni said that the police force's internal accountability mechanism would try the officers, but that Bartels could also pursue his case in a civilian court.
Rivers State Police Commissioner Usman A. Belel is aware of the situation and information from an investigation should be available after one week, Omoni said.
Bartels' alleged assault came just days after Nigeria's National Human Rights Commission presented President Muhammadu Buhari with a report on methods to reform the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, according to news reports. The report resulted from "allegations of human rights violations perpetrated by officers and men of SARS," Buhari said on Twitter.
Earlier this year, journalists told CPJ they were harassed and detained by Nigerian security forces while covering the country's elections. Last year, Nigerian police detained a group of 10 journalists covering Buhari and assaulted two, CPJ reported at the time.