Nigerian security forces have detained two journalists from a Hausa-language newspaper for days without charges after their publication printed stories on alleged abuses by the country’s military in its fight against a radical Islamist sect, officials said Thursday.
The arrests of Musa Muhammad Awwal and Aliyu Saleh come after soldiers killed dozens of civilians in at least two separate episodes in recent months after attacks by the sect known as Boko Haram. While Boko Haram attacks have killed more people this year than ever before, Nigeria’s weak central government remains unable to stop the assaults and has attempted to downplay the violence.
Awwal and Saleh were reportedly detained Monday by security forces who arrived at their homes before dawn. In the time since, the men have been held without charges and without access to lawyers, said Mohammed Garba, the president of the Nigerian Union of Journalists.
“We’re trying to see how we can proceed to get their release,” Garba told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Garba and other journalists believe the men are being held because of stories published by their weekly newspaper Al-Mizan, which is based in Kaduna and is written in the Hausa language of Nigeria’s north. Many stories focused on Boko Haram and the military forces now spread throughout the country’s north, tasked with stopping the group’s guerrilla campaign of shootings and car bombings.
Garba said it is unclear if one particular story prompted the arrests. He said the men likely were detained by Nigeria’s secretive State Security Service.
Service spokeswoman Marilyn Ogar did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement that the arrests appear “designed to silence coverage of alleged abuses by Nigeria’s security agencies.”
“We demand the immediate release of these journalists and a halt to the security agencies’ efforts to intimidate the press,” Mohamed Keita of the committee said in the statement. “National leaders must make it clear that security agents are not above the law.”
Recently, Nigerian journalists also attended a government workshop led by the State Security Service on how it should report stories about terrorist attacks.
“Always remember that if any form of violence goes unreported or not reported sensationally, it’s likely to have a reducing effect on such violence,” local media quoted State Security Service director-general Ekpeyong Ita as saying.
Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP .