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Court Orders Federal Government To Investigate all Attacks Against Journalists, Punish Perpetrators Of Attacks

In a landmark judgment, a Federal High Court in Abuja on Friday directed the Federal Government to investigate attacks against journalists, prosecute and punish perpetrators of such attacks and take measures to prevent further attacks on journalists while ensuring that all journalists who are victims of attacks have access to effective remedies.

Delivering judgment in a suit filed by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) against the Federal Government, represented by the Attorney-General of the Federation, Justice Inyang Ekwo upheld the organization’s claim that by failing to guarantee the safety of journalists and other media practitioners in accordance with Principle 20 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, the Federal Government breached its statutory duty under the Declaration and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap A9), Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

The judge also ruled that the Federal Government bears responsibility and is accordingly liable for the actions and conduct of law enforcement, security, intelligence, military and other officials and agents that threaten, undermine, or violate the rights and safety of journalists and other media practitioners.

In a suit filed on its behalf by Abuja-based human rights lawyer, Mrs. Mojirayo Ogunlana-Nkanga, on October 26, 2021, MRA complained about the violation of the fundamental rights to life and freedom of expression of Nigerian journalists and media practitioners who were murdered at various times over the last few decades in the line of duty or under circumstances relating to the discharge of their duties as journalists and the failure of the Federal Government to protect them, carry out effective investigation, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of the murders.

MRA named some of the murdered journalists, including the late Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch magazine, Mr Dele Giwa, who was killed on October 19, 1986, by a parcel bomb in his home in Lagos; Ms Bolade Fasasi, a member of the National Association of Women Journalists and former treasurer of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), who was shot dead by three unidentified gunmen in Ibadan on March 31, 1998; Mr Edward Olalekan Ayo-Ojo, who was found dead beside his car on a road in Lagos in the early hours of June 1, 1999; and Mr Omololu Falobi, a former features editor of The Punch and founder of the media advocacy group, Journalists Against AIDS (JAAIDS), who was gunned down on October 5, 2006, as he left his office in Lagos.

The others are Mr Godwin Agbroko, the Chairman of the Editorial Board of This Day newspaper, whom unknown gunmen murdered on December 22, 2006; Mr Abayomi Ogundeji, a member of the Editorial Board of This Day newspaper, who was shot dead on August 17, 2008; and Mr Edo Sule-Ugbagwu, Judicial Correspondent of The Nation newspaper, who was murdered in his home in a Lagos suburb by a gang of armed men on April 24 2010.

In his judgment, Justice Ekwo noted that given the special role that journalists play in society, they ought to be protected and not put at risk. He accordingly declared the killing of the journalists as a violation of their fundamental right to life under section 33 of the 1999 Constitution and Article 4 of the African Charter and held that their killing while carrying out their journalistic duties was a violation of their right to freedom of expression and the press under section 39 of the Constitution and Article 9 of the African Charter.

He also declared that the failure of the Federal Government to fulfil its statutory and treaty obligations to guarantee their safety in accordance with Principle 20 of the Declaration of Principles amounts to a violation of the Declaration and a breach of the statutory duty imposed on the Government by the African Charter.

He also held that the failure of the Government to take measures to prevent various forms of attacks on journalists and other media practitioners, including murder, extra-judicial killing, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests, and detention, enforced disappearance, kidnapping, intimidation, threats of physical violence, beatings and assault, unlawful surveillance, among others, as required by Principle 20 amounts to a breach of the Government’s statutory duty.
Besides, Justice Ekwo ruled, the failure of the Government to guarantee the safety of journalists; its failure to take effective legal and other measures to investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of attacks against journalists and other media practitioners, as well as its failure to ensure that the victims of such attacks have access to effective remedies in accordance with Principle 20, amounted to a breach of the Government’s statutory duty.

He therefore ordered the Federal Government to take measures to prevent attacks on journalists and other media practitioners; to investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of all attacks against journalists and other media practitioners; and ensure that all victims of attacks against journalists have access to effective remedies; and take measures to raise awareness and build the capacities of various stakeholders, particularly journalists and other media practitioners; policymakers, law enforcement, security, intelligence, military as well as other officials and relevant stakeholders on the laws and standards for ensuring the safety of journalists and media practitioners.

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