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Nigeria25 April 2002

The government announces it will prosecute foreign journalists who write "malicious falsehoods"

In a letter to Justice Minister Kanu Agabi, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières - RSF) expressed its concern at the Nigerian government’s announcement that it would prosecute foreign journalists who wrote "malicious falsehoods". "It is to be feared that government will describe any information it wishes to keep hushed up as ’malicious falsehoods’", states Robert Ménard. "Having at the last meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights supported a resolution encouraging Equatorial Guinea to consolidate its human rights situation, Nigeria should in fact be setting an example in this field." RSF calls on the government to publicly withdraw this statement of its intention, which even before being implemented represents a serious attack on press freedom.

According to information gathered by RSF, the Justice Minister, Kanu Agabi, threatened, on 24 April 2002, to prosecute foreign journalists who came to Nigeria and wrote "malicious falsehoods" about the country. The government’s statement follows the publication in the European edition of the American weekly Time Magazine on 15 April of an article reporting that foreign journalist had been given envelopes containing 50,000 nairas (approx. EUR 450) by the government at a conference on "honest and accurate reporting". The Minister of Information, who had organised the conference, had severely criticised the American television channel CNN’s coverage of inter-community riots in Lagos. On 23 April, Nigerian President Obasanjo declared he was "enraged" by the article published in Time magazine, and ordered an investigation. A number of international correspondents have confirmed they received - and returned - envelopes containing money.

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