Reporters Without Borders today said it was relieved to learn of the release of four newspaper employees who had been held since heavy-handed raids by the State Security Service (SSS) on The Insider Weekly and the Global Star newspapers in early September, but it voiced concern that police are still guarding The Insider Weekly and most of its journalists are still in hiding for fear of being arrested.
Those released were The Insider Weekly journalists Raphael Olatoye and Cyril Mbamalu, an unidentified distributor of The Insider Weekly and Global Star editorial consultant Isaac Umunna. The first three had been held since their newspaper was raided on 4 September. Umunna had been detained on 9 September, the day after the raid on the Global Star.
"It is disturbing to see this resumption of arbitrary raids by the State Security Service in a country where there was a return to civilian rule after a cruel dictatorship," Reporters Without Borders said.
"It would be disastrous for the credibility of the federal authorities if the Nigerian press were again forced to practice the ’guerilla journalism" that was its only way of surviving under the Sani Abacha regime," the organisation added.
State police raid another newspaper and arrest editorial consultant
Reporters Without Borders today condemned a raid by heavily-armed agents of the State Security Service (SSS) on the Lagos offices of the weekly Global Star on 8 September and the arrest the following day of its editorial consultant Isaac Umunna, who is also the editor of the London-based magazine Africa Today.
It was the second SSS operation against an independent newspaper in four days. The staff of The Insider Weekly have been living and working clandestinely since their newspaper was raided on 4 September.
Calling for Umunna’s immediate release if the reason for his arrest was his work as a journalist, the organisation urged the federal authorities to put a stop to the "brutal methods" being used SSS agents, who are "behaving as if they are dealing with gangsters instead of journalists."
The SSS commando that burst into the offices the Global Star at noon on 8 September and carried out a search said it was acting on orders. Clearly looking for Umunna, who was not there at the time, the SSS agents told the staff who were present that they would be held at SSS headquarters in the Lagos suburb of Shangisha until Umunna showed up. Computers, files and copies of the newspapers were seized.
Later the same day, SSS agents also want to the newspaper’s printing press and made several arrests. The Global Star personnel were released four hours later after Umunna’s lawyers intervened.
Umunna went to SSS headquarters the next day and was immediately put under arrest without being given any explanation. Since then, he has not been allowed to see his lawyer and only his wife has been able to visit him.