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Nigeria2 July 2003

Police arrest and beat up journalists during street protests in Abuja

Reporters Without Borders today urged the police authorities to investigate the arrests of two journalists and the beating of three others by police during union-led street protests in the federal capital of Abuja yesterday and the day before against increases of more than 50 per cent in fuel prices.

In a letter to police inspector-general Tafa Balogun calling for a full investigation and the punishment of those responsible, Reporters Without Borders said: "It is not normal that journalists covering demonstrations are targeted in this fashion by police."

The organisation acknowledged that press freedom had improved significantly in Nigeria in recent years, but said this week’s police violence showed that some police officers still felt free to think and act as if they would never be punished. "The authorities have the duty to take measures to put an end to this feeling of impunity," it added.

During a demonstration organised in Abuja on 30 June by the National Labour Congress (the main union federation), Funmi Komolafe, a journalist with The Vanguard newspaper, and Ola Awoniyi, a local correspondent for Agence France-Presse, were detained and taken to police regional headquarters, where they were held for more than a hour before being released.

Funmi Komolafe and Rotimi Ajayi of The Vanguard and George Osodi, a photographer with the Associated Press, were hit with rifle butts and kicked by police during another demonstration called by the NLC and other unions the next day (yesterday), which drew several thousand participants. Osodi sustained extensive bruising and his equipment was broken. When reached by the AP, a senior police official refused to comment on the incident but asked the three journalists to provide detailed statements.

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