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Blog: Signs of justice for battered Nigerian photojournalist

5 Sep

Benedict Uwalaka after his attack. (Premium Times)

Hardly ever do Nigerian journalists get justice for assaults suffered in the line of duty. But things may be set to change with the case of Benedict Uwalaka, a photojournalist with Leadership Newspapers, who on August 9 was brutally assaulted at a government hospital in Lagos State. The first step toward justice came 22 days later, when Bayo Ogunsola, one of the assailants identified by Uwalaka, was arraigned in court on August 31 on a two-count charge of assault and destruction of the journalist’s camera. Ogunsola pleaded not guilty on both counts.

Uwalaka broke down in tears at the magistrate court when the police arraigned Ogunsola, funeral services director of TOS Funerals, the private company operating the mortuary at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, according to news reports.

The case shows that justice is within reach when journalists unite and remain resilient toward achieving their goal, and that leveraging the media is an effective tool to combat impunity for attacks on journalists.

Images and video show Uwalaka’s assailants beating him and breaking a bottle on his head in a bid to prevent him from covering the release of victims’ remains after a DANA Air crash which claimed at least 153 lives. The June 3 crash made international headlines and led to the grounding of the airline’s planes and an investigation of the aviation industry. Dele Ogunsola, brother of the alleged assailant and a director of the company, which is a family business, had told me it was Uwalaka who instigated the violence. “It is wrong for a journalist to want to publish pictures of remains. It’s very unsympathetic to families,” Dele Ogunsola said.

The attack on Uwalaka was condemned by individuals, press unions, and rights groups, and Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola ordered an investigation and promised justice. But Leadership Newspapers accused the police of complicity for their unwillingness to arrest the suspects. Meanwhile, the print and electronic media have continually kept the case in the news with updates, and Uwalaka’s employers have doggedly chronicled every activity around the assault–public condemnations, solidarity visits by sympathizers, promises of swift investigations from state and federal authorities, and finally the suspect’s arraignment in court. Despite appeals for an out-of-court settlement, Iyobosa Uwugiaren, the managing editor of Leadership Newspapers, told me the company is determined to support Uwalaka throughout the trial due to begin on Oct. 4.

Uwalaka however told me that his family members have put pressure on him to drop the case. “My immediate family members are asking me to withdraw the case but my village community has refused this. I have told everyone the case is beyond me now since the union is handling it,” Uwalaka said.

The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) says it is supporting Uwalaka in pursuing the case to its conclusion, rather than settling out of court, as a deterrent against future abuse of journalists. Deji Elumoye, chairman of the NUJ’s Lagos State chapter, who led journalists on a protest march to the office of the governor on August 16, told me the union in coming days will also file a civil suit against TOS Funerals to claim damages for Uwalaka.

“They have called severally and come personally. But the NUJ is not settling out of court,” Elumoye said. “We have taken a stand to use this as a test case for the public to know that journalists are friends and not foes. We will pursue this case to a logical conclusion in court.”

The effectiveness of the pressure from the media is particularly striking given that in the past 24 years –since the parcel bomb assassination of prominent journalist Dele Giwa on October 19, 1986–justice has evaded journalists who have been victims of murders, assassination attempts, kidnappings, assaults, and threats, both hidden and occurring in full view of the public, according to CPJ research

from Committee to Protect Journalists


Bahrain – High Court of Appeal upholds politically motivated sentences against activists

5 Sep

5 September 2012

Demonstrators wear masks of Bahraini rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, sentenced to life in prison.

Demonstrators wear masks of Bahraini rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, sentenced to life in prison.


(BCHR/IFEX) – 5 September 2012 – On 4 September 2012, the High Court of Appeal in Bahrain ruled to uphold all of the sentences against the so-called “accused conspirators” in the case of the 13 human rights defenders and political leaders serving time in prison and the seven tried in absentia.

Before looking into the details of the flawed appeal process, it is crucial to note that according to reports and statements made by international human rights organizations, these prisoners of conscience should not have been imprisoned to begin with, let alone made to go through several prolonged judicial processes. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Gulf Center for Human Rights have previously noted that these processes are used as a tool for judicial harassment and used to buy time and keep these prisoners of conscience in prison for longer periods.

The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report in November 2011 clearly stated that all charges against defendants relating to freedom of speech or freedom of expression must be dropped. This decision is a clear rejection of that principle, and a serious violation of human rights. All of the charges brought against these defendants are related to freedom of expression, and must be thrown out.

All sentences against the prisoners of conscience were upheld, as well as charges such as breaching the Constitution and participating in a plot to overthrow the regime and having intelligence contact with foreign entities.

Three of the prisoners of conscience, namely Abdullah Isa Mahroos, Mohammed Hasan Jawad and Salah Abdullah Al-Khawaja, were acquitted of the charge of participating in a plot to overthrow the regime. Their sentences, though, were not amended.

Hasan Radhi, one of the leading lawyers involved in this case, spoke during a press conference today, and pointed out many of the outstanding violations that characterized the appeal process:

1. Not all of the defense witnesses were heard.
2. The confessions that were extracted under torture were not thrown out.
3. There was no investigation into the torture allegations, which were detailed in some of the statements made by leading human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and other prisoners of conscience at the beginning of the appeal process. The failure to investigate these allegations implicates the officials who were made aware of these violations.
4. The last several hearings were held in secrecy, with a gag order on the press ()
5. The court appointed new lawyers after the defendants requested their own lawyers to withdraw from the process in protest of the deeply flawed process. The new lawyers were assigned against the will of the defendants, which was a violation of their constitutional rights.
6. The appeal process was unusually swift.

Statements from Governments:

President Obama made clear in a speech on 19th May, 2011, when referring to Bahrain, that “you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.”

In a statement yesterday, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the White House stated that the US is “troubled” by the appeal verdict:

UK “disappointed” at verdicts in Bahrain activists’ case.

The BCHR and GCHR welcome the statement from Jeppe Kofod, the foreign policy spokesperson for the Social Democrats – Denmark’s ruling party – who stated in regards to the court’s decision that “It is deeply tragic and deplorable. I had hoped the Bahraini rule had deliberated further and released Al-Khawaja. It is deeply disappointing, and we need to think about what kind of sanctions we can take against Bahrain.”

The BCHR and GCHR have previously stated that the continuation of human rights violations in Bahrain are a result of international silence and a general lack of consequences for the government in Bahrain. A discussion on possible economic and/or diplomatic sanctions will have a huge influence on preserving human rights in Bahrain.

The Danish Foreign Minister, Villy Søvndal, was quoted in the Washington Post as saying “the decision to uphold the life sentence “very disappointing” and said he would discuss possible further international action from “the very broad range of countries that in the spring supported Denmark in the demand for the release of Al-Khawaja and the other human rights and democracy fighters in Bahrain.”

Statements from International and Local Human Rights Organizations:

The Human Rights Watch report on the original trial process and charges:

Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch stated that the initial court ruling “only compounds the travesty of justice that has characterized this case from the beginning.” Their report calls attention to the fact that all of the charges were related to the defendants exercising their right to peaceful expression, association, and assembly.

The international community was quick to respond to the court’s announcement. Amnesty International called these defendants prisoners of conscience, and demanded their immediate release.

Human Rights First: Reform Claims Shattered as Bahraini Court Confirms Sentences Against 13 Leading Dissidents

The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights: Appeal Court Upholds Previous Sentence of 20 Prominent Activists and Opposition Leaders.

In May 2012, an appeal signed by more than 100 organizations called to end the assault on freedom of speech, and to free all detained human rights defenders and citizens.

The BCHR and GCHR call on the US administration as well as other governments that have influence in Bahrain including the UK government, the EU and leading human rights organizations to:

1. Call for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience in Bahrain.
2. Increase the pressure on the Government of Bahrain to stop the ongoing daily human rights violations as well as escalating attacks on human rights defenders.
3. Put pressure on the Government in Bahrain to allow journalists and human rights organizations access to the country to document human rights violations and to report on the ongoing situation.
4. Immediately stop all arms sales to the Government of Bahrain due to the continuous human rights violations.
5. Initiate a discussion on international consequences, including but not limited to diplomatic and economic sanctions, towards the Government of Bahrain due to the continuation of human rights violations.

The BCHR and GCHR urge the United Nations to:

1. Hold a special session on Bahrain at the Human Rights Council, and a session to follow up on the implementation or lack thereof of the recommendations of the BICI report.
2. Call for a follow up fact-finding mission to look into the widespread and continuous human rights violations that have taken place since the issuing the BICI report November 2011.
3. Put pressure on the Government of Bahrain to accept requests for visits from the UN special rapporteurs.

Bahrain Center for Human Rights
info (@)
Phone: +97 33 9633399
Fax: +97 31 7795170

via IFEX

Body of radio reporter found in the Philippines

5 Sep

Bangkok, September 5, 2012–Philippine authorities must immediately investigate the murder of a radio journalist, establish the motive, and bring the perpetrators to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

The body of Eddie Jesus Apostol, a part-time radio blocktime reporter with DXND Radio in the southern province of Maguindanao, was found on September 1 in the Liguasan Marsh near the town of Sultan sa Barongis, according to news reports. A military spokesman said Apostol had been shot twice in the head and his hands and feet bound with rope, news reports said. Apostol’s motorcycle and an unspecified amount of money were missing, but his press card was found near his body, the reports cited the police as saying.

Apostol, a former town councilor, co-hosted a weekly radio program known as “Council on the Air” that focused on indigenous people and science, according to news reports. The block-time journalist, who had been on the air for about a year, also frequently interviewed local government officials about their projects, news reports said. Block-timing is a practice in which a broadcaster leases air time from a radio station.

Ramil Apostol said his family had last seen his brother on August 29 when he left his village for a “treasure hunt” with an unidentified person in North Cotabato province, according to news reports. Apostol was known for his treasure-hunting activities and often went on such trips, news reports said. He said the police had suggested robbery as a possible motive for Apostol’s murder, according to a GMA News report.

Malu Manar, DXND Radio’s programming director, told reporters that it was not immediately clear if Apostol’s killing was related to his work. Police did not immediately establish a motive or identify suspects in the murder, news reports said.

At least three other journalists have been killed in the Philippines in 2012. CPJ is investigating to determine whether their deaths were related to their work. Radio block-time reporters, who lease airtime from a radio station, are frequently targeted in provincial areas of the Philippines, CPJ research shows. 

  • For more data and analysis on the Philippines, visit CPJ’s Philippines page here.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

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