Nigerian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release journalist Olamilekan Hammed Adewale Bashiru, who has been arbitrarily detained since May 13, and allow him to work without intimidation, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
On May 13, Nigerian Department of State Security (DSS) officers arrested Bashiru, founder of the privately owned news website EaglesForeSight, after the outlet republished a report about the “alleged criminal records” of Ogun state governor Dapo Abiodun, according to Festus Ogun, Bashiru’s lawyer who spoke to CPJ by phone, and a report by the privately owned Punch news website. The article said that Abioldun was arrested for credit card fraud and forgery in the United States in 1986.
Bashiru was detained at DSS headquarters in the state capital Abeokuta after going there for questioning on April 29, Ogun said. After his arrest,the DSS transferred the journalist to the state police headquarters, where he is still held without charge.
“Authorities in Nigeria should immediately and unconditionally release journalist Olamilekan Hammed Adewale Bashiru,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in New York. “The continued arbitrary detention of Bashiru without charge is a malicious attempt to intimidate the journalist and gag the press, which is totally unacceptable.”
The report, which was similarly republished by various news websites, originated from the privately owned Peoples Gazette and included a reply by Abiodun’s lawyers to a petition written to Abdullah Adamu, the national chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress political party, seeking to disqualify Abiodun from seeking a second term as governor of the southwestern state because of the fraud allegations.
When Bashiru appeared for questioning on April 29, he was denied access to lawyers, Ogun said, adding that authorities allegedly forced Bashiru to delete the republished article from the EaglesForeSight website. The article is still missing from the website, according to CPJ’s review of the publication.
Authorities also allegedly compelled Bashiru to publicly apologize for republishing the article and describing the reporting source as “false information,” which he did on the website on April 29, Ogun told CPJ.
Ogun was finally allowed to visit the journalist at the police station on May 16, but was not told the charge his client faced or when he would be released, Ogun told CPJ. The lawyer said the continued detention of his client was “worrisome” and added that he would approach the high court to compel Bashiru’s release if other administrative attempts to secure his freedom failed.
CPJ’s calls and text messages to Kunle Somorin, Abiodun’s spokesperson, and Abimbola Oyeyemi, the state police public relations officer, went unanswered.