Imo Eze, the director of the Ebonyi Voice daily newspaper, and one of his journalists, Oluwole Elenyinmi, were released provisionally today in accordance with an agreement reached previously between Ebonyi state governor Sam Egwu and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).
Their release came a day after Reporters Without Borders wrote to the governor asking him to respect the agreement. Their trial on charges of conspiracy, sedition and libelling the governor is due to resume on 5 September.
3.08.2006 - Two journalists still held after nearly two months because of tough release conditions
Reporters Without Borders today condemned the continuing detention of Ebonyi Voice editor Imo Eze, and one of his journalists, Oluwole Elenyinmi, ever since they appeared in court on 14 June in response to a complaint by governor Sam Ominyi Egwu of the southeastern state of Ebonyi.
Eze used to be the governor’s chief press secretary but became a critic after leaving the post. He and Elenyinmi are stuck in prison because the judge in charge of the case set very tough conditions for their release on bail.
“For the sake of due process, the Ebonyi high court must set realistic conditions for the release of these two journalists,” the press freedom organisation said. “They seem to have become victims of the falling-out between Eze and the governor. Justice should not be turned into a means of revenge for powerful politicians especially when journalists are exposed to prison sentences under Nigeria’s obsolete and inappropriate legislation.”
When Eze and Elenyinmi published an article on 16 April headlined “Is Ebonyi A Failed State?,” accusing the state government of mismanagement and corruption, they were immediately charged by a court in Abakaliki, the capital of Ebonyi, with conspiracy, sedition and libelling the governor.
Two days later, the police and the State Security Service came to the newspaper to question Eze and his staff. Eze told The News, a national daily, on 23 May that the investigators kept returning during the days that followed. He said he also received anonymous calls threatening to kill him for criticising the governor.
On 14 June, the two journalists were finally brought before a judge, who said he would grant conditional release only if they paid 50,000 nairas (314 euros) each in bail and if a permanent secretary or equivalent senior official residing within the jurisdiction of the court was prepared to stand surety for them.
It is virtually impossible for them to satisfy the second requirement because of their relations with the governor, especially for Eze, after their falling-out.
Their lawyer, Gilbert Ngele, has appealed to the Ebonyi state high court for more acceptable conditions for their release. While awaiting its ruling, the two journalists continue to be held in Abakaliki’s federal prison.