Reporters Without Borders called today for the release of Jerome Imeime, the editor of Events, a privately-owned weekly based in Uyo, the capital of the southeastern state of Akwa Ibom. Imeime was arrested on 10 October by members of the State Security Service, the main domestic intelligence agency, for criticising the state’s governor and was charged six days later with “sedition” by an Uyo court.
“It is still impossible to publish information that upsets state governors in Nigeria,” the press freedom organisation said. “What’s more, Imeime has been charged under a retrograde law recalling the worst moments of military rule. He must be freed at once or Nigeria’s democracy will have to publicly accept that it has taken a big step backwards.”
An eye witness said Imeime was beaten at the time of his arrest while attending a religious ceremony in Ibom Hall, in Uyo. Thereafter his location was unknown until he was taken before a judge in Uyo on 16 October and charged with sedition. He was remanded in custody as soon as the charge had been read out. According to local journalists, his trial has been set for 16 November. Events has not appeared since his arrest.
Imeime was arrested because of a front-page story accusing Uyo governor Godswill Akpabio of using public funds to pay off his election campaign debts. Headlined “Akpabio Finger Treasury,” the story also alleged there had been corruption in the allocation of contracts for road building. According to the privately-owned daily Leadership, Ibom state commissioner of information Census Ekpu denied these claims and insisted that the governor played no part in Imeime’s arrest.
The is the second time this year that Events has been in trouble. In June, around 15 gunmen ransacked the newspaper’s printing plant and seized 5,000 copies of an issue referring to Akpabio’s indictment by a commission of enquiry. Witnesses said one of vehicles used in the raid belonged to the local government, but the authorities denied any involvement.