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Nigeria14 September 2007

Journalist beaten senseless by police and guards while covering prison riot

Reporters Without Borders condemns a violent assault on Tope Abiola, the deputy editor of the privately-owned Nigeria Tribune daily newspaper, who was beaten unconscious by prison guards and police at Agadi prison in Ibadan (in the southwestern state of Oyo) on 11 September while trying to cover the aftermath of a riot by inmates.

“Nigerian journalists are often subjected to violence on the least pretext, without anyone ever being punished,” the press freedom organisation said. “We call on the government to put an end to this impunity by ordering investigations that result in those responsible being identified and punished, regardless of whether they are political party activists or police officers.”

An estimated 40 inmates were killed when guards put down a riot in Agadi prison on 10 September in which many detainees tried to escape. Oyo comptroller of prisons Maureen Omeili said no journalists would be allowed to visit the scene of the riot as it was an internal matter that did not concern the press.

Abiola was one of many journalists who nonetheless went to the prison the next day, arguing that such a large death toll in one of the country’s oldest prisons could not be ignored. He was taking photos of bodies and trying to count them as they were being removed from the prison when police and guards beat him until he lost consciousness. Fellow journalists who went to his aid were also beaten. Abiola was hospitalised but his life is not in danger.

Violence against journalists also marred the 11 September inauguration of a new road near Ibadan by the governor of Oyo. When the ceremony was over, political activists blocked the road and demanded money from the governor. They turned on other people present, including journalists, after the governor fled. Gbenga Abegunde of the privately-owned Daily Independent newspaper was hit by several stones in the chest and a vehicle owned by African Independent Television, a privately-owned TV station, was destroyed but none of the journalists was seriously injured.

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