COHRD accuses DSS, Akwa Ibom governor of suppressing press freedom

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udomThe Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (COHRD) has flayed what it described as an onslaught against press freedom and journalists in Akwa Ibom State by the Udom Emmanuel-led government.

In a statement signed by Inibehe Effiong and Eneh John, convener and secretary, the group said it was particularly saddened by “the unlawful and undemocratic manipulation of the Department of State Service (DSS) by the state government in a desperate attempt to suppress all forms of perceived anti-government reports in the media, especially the local media in Akwa Ibom State”.

“On Wednesday, September 30, 2015, a newspaper vendor, Ndifreke Asuquo Etim was assaulted by a former senator and former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Sen. Anietie Okon. This unfortunate incident took place right inside the Akwa Ibom State Government House where the poor vendor had gone to sell his papers. The only explanation offered by the senator for assaulting the vendor was that he advertised local newspapers that reported “unfavourable” stories against the state government.

“Also, on Saturday, October 3, 2015, Mr. Gideon Ekere, publisher of a local tabloid in Akwa Ibom State, Global Post Newspaper, was arrested by heavily armed operatives of the DSS. He was detained and denied access to his family. The DSS only released him after making him to sign an undertaking that he will retract a story which he published against the governor,” the group said.

COHRD further alleged that the DSS on the orders of the Akwa Ibom State government is currently on the trail of the publishers of at least two other local tabloids, namely; Global Concord Newspaper and The Guide Newspaper.

“The said publishers have also raised alarm that their lives and that of members of their families are no longer safe following death threats. They have now been made fugitives for merely keeping to the tenets of their calling as watchdog of the society.

“In the light of the foregoing, COHRD wishes to draw the attention of the Akwa Ibom State government to Sections 22 and 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) which sufficiently provides for the role of the press and freedom of expression, respectively. It is pertinent to note that there are ample provisions under our laws for those who think that they have been defamed to seek redress in a court of competent jurisdiction,” the statement added.

“It is indeed a very sad commentary and tragic irony that the same DSS that has come under intense and sustained blackmail and attacks from the Udom Emmanuel-led government over the so-called “invasion” of a presidential guest house in the Akwa Ibom State Governor’s Lodge is now being used by the same Udom Emmanuel-led government to harass, intimidate and haunt perceived anti-government media practitioners in the state. We consider this totally preposterous, scandalous and unacceptable.”

COHRD appealed to the Director General of the DSS to as a matter of urgency independently investigate the role of the DSS in Akwa Ibom State in the ongoing clampdown on journalists. “The present national leadership of the DSS has so far demonstrated its commitment to the dictates of rule of law. We will like these reformist efforts replicated in the DSS actions, activities and operations in Akwa Ibom State.

“We reject any attempt by the Udom Emmanuel-led government to use the DSS as an attack dog against perceived opponents. Arbitration of civil disputes and criminal charges are the exclusive preserve of the courts. The DSS must not be used for dirty and reckless objectives. We believe that the change in the political leadership of our country is hinged on rule of law, respect for the rights of the citizens and accountability.

“COHRD demands an immediate end to this undemocratic drums of war against press freedom in Akwa Ibom State. No government in the history of this country has ever succeeded in suppressing the press,” the statement added.

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