Nigeria’s State Security Services (SSS) in Akwa Ibom State has released Kufre Carter, after initially disregarding a court order to free the journalist on bail.
Carter, who works with XL 106.9 FM, in the state capital, Uyo, was released on bail on May 27, 2020, exactly a month after he was arrested for criticizing the state’s Commissioner for Health over his handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
He was arrested on April 27, 2020. This followed the leaking into the media including social media of the journalist’s critical comments about the state Health Commissioner’s handling the COVID-19 pandemic. He was charged with defamation and conspiracy.
On April 29, 2020, the SSS arraigned him before a Magistrate’s Court in Uyo on a defamation charge.
The judge, Winifred Umohandi, set a bail condition of N3 million plus a letter from his village chief attesting to his identity. Unable to meet the bail conditions, Carter continued to be detained by the SSS until his lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, secured a High Court decision to reduce the bail condition from N3 million to N200,000 plus a surety in the person of a prominent indigene or a businessman within the jurisdiction of the court.
However, after Carter had met the revised bail conditions, with the High Court issuing an order on May 22, 2020 for him to be released, the SSS illegally detained him five more days, in total disregard of the order from the court, drawing condemnation from human rights and press freedom organisations in Nigeria and abroad.
While we welcome Carter’s eventual release, we maintain that his arrest for criticising a public officer’s performance is a mark of intolerance and abuse of power. We condemn the SSS for continuing to detain the journalist for additional five days after the High Court had ordered his release. The MFWA finds the posture of the SSS extremely worrying, as it amounts to a blatant disdain for the rule of law and due process.
We therefore urge the authorities in Akwa Ibom State to drop all charges against Carter and ensure that he is not harassed for exercising his right as a citizen and his duty as a journalist to demand accountability from public officials who are paid from the public treasury.