The Committee to Protect Journalists, yesterday appealed to the Nigerian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release freelance journalist, Luka Binniyat, and drop all charges against him.
Recall that on November 4, Police officers in Barnawa, Kaduna State, arrested Binniyat, a journalist who contributes to the U.S.-based news outlet The Epoch Times, according to an Epoch Times report and Jonathan Asake, president of the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union, (SOKAPU), a local rights group, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.
Binniyat, who also works as a spokesperson for SOKAPU, was arrested in response to a complaint by the State’s Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, over an October 29 report that Binniyat had published in The Epoch Times.
On November 9, Binniyat was arraigned and the court denied his bail application, according to Imadomeju and another report by The Epoch Times.
Imadomeju told CPJ that, if convicted of cyberstalking, Binniyat could face up to three years in prison and a fine of 7 million naira (US$17,049).
The Epoch Times is a U.S.-based international news outlet affiliated with the Falun Gong religious movement; in Nigeria, it covers local news stories and often reports on religious and ethnic minorities.
Binniyat’s October 29 Epoch Times report criticised the Kaduna State government’s response to the killings of Christians, and quoted Senator Danjuma Laah as saying that Aruwan had been involved in concealing facts around a ‘genocide against Christians in the Southern Kaduna State’.
The report also alleged that Police had failed to make arrests one month after 38 unarmed farmers were killed in Madamai, a predominantly Christian community. Aruwan told CPJ over the phone that the comments attributed to Laah were false and that they had put him and his family in grave danger.
Asake told CPJ that Binniyat was denied bail because the judge said that the court did not have jurisdiction over the matter, and then adjourned proceedings until November 23, when they are scheduled to be heard again by the same court.
According to a freelance editor for The Epoch Times, Doug Burton, who worked with Binniyat on the October 29 story, told CPJ that Binniyat wrote the report in his capacity as a reporter for the news outlet, not as a spokesperson for SOKAPU.
Previously, authorities detained Binniyat in 2017 for alleged breach of peace and false reporting over a report he wrote for the Vanguard news website, as CPJ documented at the time.