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Society | Media

Nigeria news magazine accused of "treason"

afrol News, 6 September - Nigerian State Security Service (SSS) officers have raided the editorial offices of 'The Insider Weekly' news magazine, based in Lagos, and arrested its production manager, Raphael Olatoye, after sealing up the offices. The security agency later accused the magazine of treason, sedition and subversion over a string of articles critical of President Olusegun Obasanjo and his government.

According to information gathered by the Lagos-based group Media Rights Agenda (MRA), the SSS action against 'The Insider Weekly' on 4 September was politically based. The Lagos news magazine has become renowned for critical reporting against the controversial government of President Obasanjo.

The magazine's editor-in-chief, Osa Director, said the Nigerian security agents had arrived at the media organisation's premises at approximately 7:00 a.m. (local time) and smashed the doors in the premises to gain entrance to the offices. The men then ransacked the offices and seized some documents, which they took with them when they left at approximately 7:00 p.m. the same day.

Upon leaving the premises, the security officers locked up the magazine's offices with locks they had brought with them for this purpose. They then took Mr Olatoye to the premises of the commercial printers where the magazine is printed and seized all copies of the magazine's current edition, which were to go on sale on 5 September. Mr Olatoye was then taken to the SSS office in Lagos.

In justifying its action, the SSS issued a statement on the evening of 4 September saying that, "For quite sometime now, 'The Insider Weekly' magazine has consistently being [sic] attacking, disparaging and humiliating the person and office of the President and Commander-in-Chief as well as some notable people in government."

Citing some past editions of the magazine to substantiate its claim, the SSS said in the statement, titled "The storming of the premises of 'The Insider Weekly'", that "The attempt by the publisher of 'The Insider Weekly' magazine to continually distort facts and misrepresent noble ideals of the present administration to the innocent public is not only libellous, seditious and subversive but also treasonable."

The SSS did not say, however, if it intended to file formal charges against the magazine or its publishers. Freedom of expression is granted by the Nigerian constitution. An increasing number of episodes however are weakening press freedom in the federal country, in particular in some of the federation's states, where local politicians take on dictatorial methods.

Media Rights Agenda (MRA) warns about these tendencies in Nigeria. It today urges followers to send appeals to President Obasanjo, calling for Mr Olatoye's immediate release and the re-opening of the magazine's offices. Nigerian authorities are urged to "respect the right of journalists to practice their profession freely."

- No law in Nigeria empowers security agents to seal up a media organisation's premises, according to an MRA statement. "The intimidation and harassment of journalists violates the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Section 39 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, as well as international human rights instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory, and undermines the spirit of Nigeria's new democratic process," the Lagos-based group adds.

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