The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on Nigerian authorities to drop all charges against journalist Kufre Carter, and to ensure that the press is not harassed by the country’s security forces.
Carter, a presenter with the privately owned XL 106.9 FM radio station, was arrested on April 27 in the southern city of Uyo by officers with Nigeria’s Department of State Services. Carter had responded to a summons issued the day before. During his month-long detention, Carter was barred from having visits from his lawyer or family, and was released on bail on May 27.
On April 29, a local court charged Carter with conspiracy and defamation, stemming from an article published in First Reports on April 25, which featured the audio of a phone call between two unnamed people that was critical of Akwa Ibom State Health Commissioner Dominic Ukpong’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis in the state.
The charge sheet alleges that Carter “caused [the article] to be published,” and that the article and recording were “false” and contained “defamatory words against” Ukpong.
First Reports editor-in-chief Ita Utioh told CPJ that Carter had never worked for the newspaper, and that the article in question simply reposted audio that was already circulating on social media.
“In this confusing set of circumstances, two things are clear: Nigerian authorities are overreacting to criticism, and the Department of State Services is once again arbitrarily targeting a journalist,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator.
“Detaining Kufre Carter for one month is a violation of his basic rights. Carter should never have been detained, and the charges against him should be dropped immediately.”
If convicted, Carter faces a maximum sentence of two years in prison for conspiracy and the same for criminal defamation, and three years’ imprisonment for the allegedly false and defamatory First Reports publication. Carter was released after providing the court a bail bond of 200,000 naira ($512).
CPJ has documented the repeated arbitrary detention of journalists by Nigeria’s Department of State Services, which operates under the coordinator of national security, who reports directly to President Muhammadu Buhari, according to the National Security Agencies Act.
In 2019, CPJ documented how Nigeria’s military targeted journalists’ phones and computers with digital forensics technology, seeking to extract information that would reveal sources for their reporting.