Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has called on the Federal Government to establish a specialized team of prosecutors to facilitate the effective investigation and the prosecution of perpetrators of crimes against journalists and other media workers to enable Nigeria to fulfill its regional and international treaty obligations to ensure the safety of journalists.
In a letter to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), ahead of this year’s International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists (IDEI), MRA said such a move would also be consistent with the spirit of the 2021 commemoration of the Day, which “focuses on the instrumental role of prosecutorial services in investigating and prosecuting not only killings but also threats of violence against journalists”.
In the letter signed by its Executive Director, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, MRA recalled that at its 68th session held in 2013, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution which proclaimed November 2 of every year as the IDEI, saying that by establishing the team of specialized prosecutors, Nigeria will be positioned to “fulfil its international treaty obligations under a number of regional and international instruments, most notably Principle 20 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, adopted in November 2019 by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights pursuant to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which Nigeria is a State Party.”
Saying that “it is a matter of grave concern that despite the numerous cases of attacks against journalists in Nigeria in the last few decades, including many of them killed, no one has ever been charged with any crime for such attacks and nobody has ever been punished”, the organization suggested that the team of prosecutors should be supported by a team of investigators from the Nigerian Police and other relevant law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies to ensure effective investigation of cases.
According to MRA, the current situation reflects negatively on the Government of Nigeria and sends a wrong message to perpetrators that they can attack or even kill journalists and that there will be no adverse consequences for the perpetrators.
It noted that as a regional power and leader, it is imperative that Nigeria demonstrates moral leadership by living up to commitments freely made, particularly in the African context, by respecting and abiding by such regional standards and instruments.
Principle 20 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, titled “Safety of journalists and other media practitioners”, imposes an obligation on State Parties to the African Charter to guarantee the safety of journalists and other media practitioners, and provides, among other things, that:
· States shall take measures to prevent attacks on journalists and other media practitioners, including murder, extra-judicial killing, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearance, kidnapping, intimidation, threats and unlawful surveillance undertaken by State and non-State actors;
· States shall take measures to raise the awareness and build the capacities of journalists and other media practitioners, policy makers and other stakeholders on laws and standards for ensuring the safety of journalists and other media practitioners;
· States shall take effective legal and other measures to investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of attacks against journalists and other media practitioners, and ensure that victims have access to effective remedies;
· States shall be liable for the conduct of law enforcement, security, intelligence, military and other personnel which threatens, undermines or violates the safety of journalists and other media practitioners; and
· States shall take specific measures to ensure the safety of female journalists and media practitioners by addressing gender-specific safety concerns, including sexual and gender-based violence, intimidation and harassment.
MRA expressed its readiness to work with the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation to elaborate a framework for the team of prosecutors to be established and to subsequently continue working with and supporting members of the team, including by providing them with relevant materials that can assist them in their work.