FREE Jonathan Elendu NOW!

UPDATE: Another online publisher arrested (Source Point Blank News)

“Mr. Emeka Asiwe of huhuonline.com was on tuesday picked up at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos by officials of the State Security Services, SSS.
Asiwe who had arrived Nigeria from the United State to visit his sick mother was arrested shortly after arriving the country on charges that he is among online publishers declared wanted by the Government of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.

Jonathan Elendu was released from custody yesterday but we are still not sure how FREE he really is and until then we must assume that there are a number of restrictions placed on him which is unacceptable and therefore he is NOT FREE. Nigerian Curiosity explains this further…

Unfortunately, although he is now receiving medical attention, Elendu is not actually free. His passport was not returned to him and therefore he is not free to return to his family in Michigan. Although he is no longer in detention, Elendu remains detained in Nigeria by the Nigerian government because without his travel documents, he does not have the right to leave Nigeria and return tohis residence in Michigan.

Jonathan Elendu’s detention needs to be seen in the context of a history of constant harassment of Nigerian and foreign journalists dating back to the military regimes that governed the country from the civil war period until 1997 and through the two post military regimes of Obasanjo and now Yar’Adua.

A number of comments by bloggers and readers have described the arrest as a regression back to those ugly military days but if one scrapes the surface a clear pattern and culture of media repression and torture emerges throughout the post Abacha civilian period. As one blogger mentioned recently in respect of the closure of Channels TV, our memories soon fade. What should have been a warning on censorship was, to a large extent, seen as an isolated case. Definitely the outrage at media censorship from the blogoshere was nothing like with the case of Elendu. Possibly this was due to the fact Channels TV may have made an error which is no small matter but it certainly does not warrant not only the closure but the Nazi SS tactics displayed by the SSS.

To return to the culture of media repression in Nigeria, a brief look at a 2004 report by the International Press Institute (IPI) shows an alarming number of suspensions and arrests of Nigerian journalists.

As conflict broke out in several areas of the country, violations against press freedom in Nigeria were increasingly prevalent this year with journalists being suspended, assaulted, threatened, arrested and deported by aggressive police and security forces. The escalation of politically motivated violence against journalists was representative of the instability that spread throughout the country.

Looking at the reasons behind the harassment and detention of journalists it is clear that their “crimes” were reporting the truth such as election rigging, strikes, political disputes between the President and other members of government, or as in the case of Gbenga Faturoti of the Daily Independent, beaten almost unconscious for failing to turn off his mobile phone whilst in the Osun State Assembly. Altogether 21 journalists were victims of either the police or SSS in 2004 — arrested, beaten, threatened, detained. Most were tortured. All were released without charge after period of 24 hours to 1 week. In addition 2 radio stations in Anambra State were vandalised and staff beaten up and the offices of Insider Weekly and Global Star were also vandalised and staff arrested.

A common factor behind all of the above is the lack of accountability for the actions by the security forces and by implication the State and Federal government including the then president, Obasanjo. The failure of the national media to report the kidnapping of Jonothan Elendu is proof of how intimidated the Nigerian press is. However I don’t believe this is an excuse especially since the Nigerian press itself refuses to acknowledge that it’s freedoms are being seriously curtailed. In that sense the Nigerian media have in the past and at present colluded with the state in their own oppression by not only failing to speak in defense of their fellow journalists but possibly worse, presenting the illusion of a free press. With the rise of sites such as Nigerian Village Square and Sahara Reporters as well as the growing number of Nigerian bloggers writing from the Disapora, it has become increasingly more difficult to keep up the pretense of a free press. Whilst the new online media and bloggers are prepared to take on the government, albeit from afar and in most cases anonymously, this does not excuse the failure of traditional media to challenge the government on freedom of speech, through the media itself or the courts.

A recent report by statements made by member of Nigeria’s Civil Liberties Organsation exposes the squalid, inhumane and unjust treatment of prisoners and police detainees in Nigeria. Jonathan Elendu would have been subjected to these conditions and reports of him being tortured are not surprising. After all you can be dragged out of your car or bus and beaten senseless by the police at any time so why not carry out torture knowing full well that you act with impunity? See also the Report by the 2008 UN Special Rapporteur on Torture on Nigeria which states “there were reports that security forces beat journalists during the year” and …

torture was endemic in law enforcement operations, including police custody, and was often used to extract alleged confessions of guilt. According to his report, the methods of torture included flogging with whips; beating with batons and machetes; shooting a suspect in the foot; threatening a suspect with death and then shooting him with powder cartridges; suspension from the ceiling; and denying food, water, and medical treatment.

There were credible reports during the year that security forces committed rape and other forms of sexual violence on women and girls with impunity. Police officials acknowledged that rape was a problem. Amnesty International (AI) reported that women were frequently raped while in detention but did not report the abuse because of the social stigma attached to rape and the fact that police officers were the perpetrators. On December 10, the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria said it had monitored 400 police stations in 13 states for a year and found that killings, torture, extortion, and rape had become routine because the authorities shielded police officers from the law.

The kidnapping of Jonathan Elendu has brought to center stage the issue of human rights in Nigeria. If the belief in those rights include everyone irrespective of their difference then something positive will have been gained from this experience. Comments such as the one implying that maybe the Nigerian media had decided the story was “not worth the ink and paper” and that there might possibly be some credit to their (SSS) approach and they could be right, are particularly disturbing and not very progressive.

What if the local media knows what we don’t? What if they know more about this case and have decided that its not worth the ink and paper? Why do we find it difficult to accept that there is some credit to their approach to this matter? Why do we find it difficult to accept that they may be right?

This kinds of statement that Nigeria is like this or that so lets live with it or there is nothing to be done etc is the kind of nonchalant attitude that obstructs any kind of progress. It is why Nigerians are so dismissive and lame when it comes to making any real challenge to the existing power structures in the country or creating a meaningful opposition to the abuse of human rights. Human Rights are not exclusive. Just as the rights of gays and lesbians are refused and ridiculed in Nigerian society and legislation, so too will the rights of journalists and everyone else. A country which does not respect the rights of one group will not respect the rights of others. You may think you safe because you are not a journalist or a gay man but one day they will come for you too. We need to wake up. If one good thing comes out of this campaign I hope it will be that more Nigerians than last week, respect the notion of human rights for all people irrespective of their personal feelings.

Links: Facebook Group “Free Nigerian Blogger, Jonathan Elendu
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