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Nigeria20 February 2004

Journalist from British weekly The Economist expelled

A journalist working for the British weekly The Economist, Silvia Sansoni, was expelled from Nigeria after being taken to Lagos airport under police escort and put on a plane for Paris.

Reporters Without Borders said it was shocked by the decision, which was a violation of press freedom but added, "We are not really surprised. The Nigerian authorities have been treating the foreign press with contempt for several years and have never stopped making the working lives of foreign correspondents more difficult."

Silvia Sansoni was working as a freelance for The Economist and the US Forbes magazine. The authorities accused her of breaking immigration laws and abusing her accreditation. Sansoni, who has dual US and Italian nationality, said that she had a valid visa at the time of her 19 February expulsion.

Information Minister, Chukwuemeka Chikelu, said her expulsion was not linked to her reporting and that numbers of other foreign reporters were continuing to work normally in the country.

The international press freedom organisation recalled that a team from CNN was nearly expelled in October 2003 after being arrested on arrival at Lagos airport.

"The Nigerian government appears to be irritated about critical reporting appearing in Europe and the United States," it said. "If the authorities believed that the journalist was not working legally, they could have resolved the situation without recourse to such a serious step as expulsion."

CNN’s correspondent in West Africa, Jeff Koinange, and his cameraman, Simon Munene, were held for several hours at Lagos airport in October 2003 after they landed on a flight from Ghana. Customs officials told them that they were being expelled because of orders "from high up". The cameraman was struck as he tried to take photographs of the scene. The government, embarrassed by the incident, finally intervened to prevent them being expelled.

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