The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Africa Program Coordinator, Angela Quintal, urged Nigerian authorities to drop all charges against Luka Binniyat and release the journalist from jail immediately.
“A Judge ordered the journalist to be detained on charges of ‘breach of public peace and false reporting’ over an article he wrote for the daily Vanguard, according to court documents seen by CPJ,” Quintal said.
A statement issued by CPJ on Monday said that during an arraignment in the city of Kaduna on July 12, Binniyat pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against him. His lawyer, James Kanyip, told CPJ that Binniyat, who is recovering from an accident, arrived the Court on crutches, but at the hearing, the judge said he was feeling unwell and ordered Binniyat to be remanded in custody until July 20 to give the judge time to read the journalist’s argument.
The charges are related to a January 24 article that Binniyat wrote for Vanguard newspaper in which he alleged that herdsmen killed five students of the Kaduna State College of Education, Gidan Waya. Kaduna authorities charged the journalist on March 20 under the state’s penal code, according to the court documents.
But Quintal says that “charging a journalist with ‘breach of peace’ simply for informing the public is unacceptable, and arbitrarily throwing him in prison when he appears for a hearing is outrageous. Nigerian authorities should immediately release Luka Binniyat and drop all charges against him.”
Under the state penal code, Binniyat faces up to three years in prison if convicted of breach of public peace and two years if convicted of false reporting, or “injurious falsehood.” The journalist is due back in court July 20, Kanyip said.
Binniyat stopped working for Vanguard after he was first charged over the story. However, accounts differ as to whether the reporter resigned or was fired. According to Kanyip and media reports, Vanguard fired Binniyat. But the newspaper’s Editor, Eze Anaba, told CPJ that Binniyat resigned. “The management is reviewing the whole matter: the story, the court case, and the resignation,” Anaba told CPJ.
Political and religious tensions were high in Kaduna state after series of killings in Southern Kaduna until Nigeria’s military intervened, Ibrahima Yakubu, who covers the region for Deutche Welle, told CPJ.
“Binniyat has been a voice against the government for a very long time, especially in respect to the killings that are going on in Southern Kaduna,” the journalist’s lawyer, Kanyip told CPJ.