By Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net)
KADUNA STATE, NIGERIA (ANS – July 22, 2017) — Luka Binniyat, a Christian journalist in Nigeria’s Kaduna State, has been returned to jail following a bail hearing in which a judge set bail terms so stringent that they have been described as “nearly impossible.”
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (www.csw.org.uk), on July 12, Justice Bashir Sukola remanded Mr. Binniyat in custody for writing a story about an attack by armed Fulani herdsmen in southern Kaduna that later proved incorrect. Mr. Binniyat’s case highlights an erosion of press freedom and the inequality before the law of different religious communities in Kaduna State.
During a second hearing on July 20, Justice Sukola, sitting in High Court 10 in Kaduna, granted bail on condition that two sureties (guarantors) post bonds of 10 million naira each (approx. US$31,720.00), which they must be prepared to renew every six months, and that they surrender their international passports for as long as the case lasts. The case was adjourned until August 31, and Mr. Binniyat, who is on crutches and medication following a domestic accident, was returned to Kaduna Convict Prison pending the posting of bail.
In a comment to Nigerian press agencies following the hearing, lead counsel for the defense, Alex Marama, described the bail conditions as too demanding and stringent for his client. He added that the defense team would be applying for a downward review in the interests of equity and justice.
CSW says there has been widespread condemnation of the bail conditions, with several observers describing them as “nearly impossible conditions” which were “not meant to be met,” and which were designed to “cripple” anyone standing as a surety.
One source pointed out to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) that “even if two sureties can be found, these people would not be able to travel abroad for the duration of the case, which could be made to continue indefinitely, making it extremely difficult for them.”
In a statement to the press after visiting Mr. Binniyat in prison, Comrade Christopher Isiguzo, vice president of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) South East, expressed “displeasure” at the bail conditions: “We are talking about a journalist and not a criminal or hoodlum.”
He also contrasted Mr. Binniyat’s treatment with that of the individuals behind the June 6 “Kaduna Declaration,” who remain at large despite an order for their arrest following a press conference in which they vilified the Igbo tribe and warned its members to leave northern Nigeria before October 1 or face unspecified consequences, stating that Mr. Binniyat “is not part of those asking people to vacate any part of the country” and thus did not merit “such stringent bail conditions.”
The NUJ National Secretariat has condemned the detention of Mr. Binniyat, and on July 17, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) called for his release and for the charges against him to be dropped, stating that “charging a journalist with ‘breach of peace’ simply for informing the public is unacceptable, and arbitrarily throwing him in prison when he appears for a hearing is outrageous.”
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “These stringent bail conditions are entirely disproportionate to the nature of the alleged crime, while the charges do not warrant remand or the imposition of bail conditions. The excessive conditions would appear to validate speculation that the case is the latest in a series of malicious prosecutions intended to repress press freedom, and also to silence those who draw attention to the situation in southern Kaduna, where over 800 people have been killed and thousands more displaced in attacks by Fulani militia that have been ongoing for over a year.
“It is wholly unacceptable that those behind the Kaduna Declaration remain at large while Mr. Binniyat is harassed judicially merely for doing his job. We therefore join in calls for his immediate and unconditional release, and for the dropping of all charges. We also reiterate our call to the Kaduna State Government to instead prioritize tracing, disarming and prosecuting the perpetrators of violence, compensating and caring for the survivors, and restoring occupied lands to their rightful owners.”
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organization working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.
For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Senior Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email email@example.com or visit www.csw.org.uk.
(Editor’s Note: ANS Founder Dan Wooding was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, Alfred and Anne Wooding. His mother spent much of her time ministering to the blind in Kano, Nigeria. Dan, who moved to the UK in 1942, has only been back to Nigeria on one occasion, and it didn’t work out very well. He had “journalist” in his British passport, and was arrested at Lagos Airport, put in a cell there with for Africans, and eventually freed and told never to come back to the land of his birth).
Photo captions: 1) Nigerian Journalist Luka Binniyat (CSW photo). 2) Dan Wooding in a Nigerian cell after his arrest. The picture was smuggled out of the country after Dan was released). 3) Michael Ireland.
About the Writer: Michael Ireland is a volunteer internet journalist serving as Chief Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as an Ordained Minister, and an award-winning local cable-TV program host/producer who has served with ASSIST Ministries and written for ANS since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. Please consider helping Michael cover his expenses in bringing news of the Persecuted Church, by logging-on to: https://actintl.givingfuel.com/ireland-michael
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