Embattled Epoch Times reporter Luka Binniyat was charged with cyberstalking the head of Kaduna State Security Tuesday at his arraignment at the Barnawa Magistrate’s Court in Kaduna Nigeria. Human rights advocates say that cyberstalking is a charge often used in Nigeria to silence the press.
Mr. Samuel Aruwan, Kaduna State’s Commissioner of State Security filed a criminal complaint against Binniyat that prompted his arrest last Thursday. Aruwan told a press conference Monday that Binniyat’s report of Oct 29 in The Epoch Times was evidence of inciting violence and had endangered him personally.
“On 29th October 2021, my attention was drawn to an online publication authored by one Luka Binniyat. In this publication, Mr. Binniyat quoted Senator Danjuma Laah of the Southern Kaduna Senatorial District, as stating that I am being used to cover up a genocide against Christians in Southern Kaduna,” Aruwan wrote.
“I am supremely concerned first, for the implications of such a statement on the peace and security of our state, because of the religious and ethnic sentiments it has conveyed,” Aruwan, a self-identified Christian, wrote Monday.
He went on to say that he felt threatened by the reporting. “This material has exposed my life and the lives of my family to grave and immediate danger,” he wrote.
Cyberstalking is a controversial statute in Nigeria where it was instituted in 2015. It is defined as “the act of threatening, harassing, or annoying someone through multiple email messages, as through the Internet, especially with the intent of placing the recipient in fear that an illegal act or an injury will be inflicted on the recipient,” according to ResearchGate.
More than 60,000 Nigerian citizens, including many unarmed women and children have perished during violent, sectarian attacks since 2009, according to the International Committee on Nigeria (ICON).
The executive director of ICON, Mr. Kyle Abts, told The Epoch Times that the cyberstalking law is aimed at shutting down factual reporting. “Binniyat is charged with ‘cyberstalking under the cybercrime law,’ which many legal experts believe is another form by the Nigerian government to prevent freedom of expression,“ he said.
“Mr. Binniyat was moved from the Kakuri Police jail to the Criminal Investigation Division facility in Kaduna,” according to Ms. Tep-rick Emmanuel, assistant public relations officer of the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union.
Binniyat had texted to colleagues Monday morning as he waited to appear in court that he feared for his life. “I fear that my life is in danger. I was smuggled here from the police detention facility in Gabasawa police cell after four days without trial and dehumanizing cell condition,” according to his message to journalist John Shiklam, a friend.
“I am yet to be taken before a judge,” Binniyat texted on the fifth day of his detention by police.
“I just managed to get this phone,” he added.
He is represented by Barrister Yakubu Galadima, who will petition the court to move the case to a High Court tomorrow to enable the Magistrate to grant cash bail, Emmanuel said. “I believe the bail can be granted soon,” Emmanuel said.
Yet, other observers believe the state authorities seek to prevent Binniyat from getting bail, since the Magistrate’s court does not have authority to grant bail for the charge of cyberstalking, which is not under its authority.
“This is what the prosecution did to Steven Kefas two years ago,” according to one court attendee who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal. “They were expected to try Luka on defamation and injurious false statement, but they changed it to cyberstalking, knowing that the Magistrate’s Court has no authority over that crime, and knowing that it may take time to get into the High Court’s docket.”
Kefas, an internet journalist was charged with cyberstalking in 2019 and spent 160 days either in jail or the main Kaduna prison, he told The Epoch Times.
“Cybercrime elevates his case to a higher court, giving Kaduna State Governor Nasir el-Rufai more oversight over Binniyat’s case, which is dire for him, as without proper care and legal guidance he will languish in a Nigerian prison,” according to ICON’s Abts.
“Luka Binniyat is trying to report the truth and share it with the world. He is being prevented to freely express his thoughts, beliefs and the reality in Nigeria,” Abts said.
“The charges against Luka Binniyat, according to my sources, bear a striking resemblance to the tactics employed against other journalists in Nigeria for the crime of accurately reporting the truth about the genocide against Christians in Nigeria,” according to John Stewart, a California attorney and theologian who has visited Nigeria five times.
“If my sources in Kaduna are correct, a federal charge of ‘cyber stalking’ was added to state charges that include ‘incitement’ against Binniyat for his article that was published in the Epoch Times on Oct. 29,” Stewart emailed to The Epoch Times.
“A federal charge prevents the local magistrate from granting bail, meaning Binniyat will languish in jail until the matter can be transferred to a federal magistrate who is able to grant bail. It can take several weeks or longer for a case to be formally transferred to a federal magistrate. Remaining in the squalid conditions of a Kaduna State jail sends a stark message that Binniyat and other journalists who expose government complicity and corruption in the terrorist attacks on Christians in Nigeria will incur the wrath of the government,” wrote Stewart.
Rev. Johnnie Moore, a two-time Commissioner on the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, urged human rights organizations to raise their voices against the persecution of a reporter.
“The authorities in Nigeria are now incarcerating journalists working on behalf of international media organizations? Instead of working so hard to make excuses for the atrocities being committed in the country, they should be putting that energy into fixing them. I hope the chorus of global outrage is so loud that it cannot be ignored because it doesn’t seem that anyone is listening to thousands of quiet cries of Nigeria’s innocent victims,” Moore texted to The Epoch Times.
By Douglas Burton
From The Epoch Times