DSS fails to produce witnesses against detained journalist Jones Abiri

THE Department of Security Service (DSS) has failed to bring any witness to court at the commencement of hearing on the detained journalist, Jones Abiri.

Abiri, Bayelsa-based journalist and publisher,  was kept in detention by the DSS for more than two years without trial until last Friday that he was arraigned at a magistrate court in Wuse Zone 2.

He was arrested by the DSS in July 2016 and was accused of militancy in the Niger Delta. The DSS failed to file criminal charges within two days as required by law.

The DSS, however, said in court filings that Abiri sent a text message to oil companies demanding illicit payments, a statement contrary to its earlier claims that he was a militant.

After the arraignment on Friday, Abiri was granted stringent bail conditions which he could not meet up. In addition to N2 million bail, he was to provide two sureties who must be senior civil servants on at least Level-15 and resident in Abuja.

At the hearing of the matter on Thursday, the DSS’s lawyer, Jamilu Hamisu, told the court that the prosecutor could not get any of the four witnesses to appear in court because they travelled abroad.

He appealed to the court to postpone the hearing to enable the prosecutor to produce the witnesses.

The persecutor’s prayer was granted as the magistrate, Chukwuemeka Nweke, adjourned the matter to August 16 to determine the substantive suit.

However, counsel to the defender, Marshall Abubakar from Falana Falana Chambers, filed an application for the court to release Abiri on self-recognition on most liberal terms since he could not meet the stringent bail conditions.

The prosecutor appealed for time to study the application in which the magistrate fixed August 8 to determine the application.

Abubakar told journalists that fundamental right suit was first filed before the Federal High Court in May over the unlawful detention of Abiri. He said upon hearing on the suit at the high court, DSS made an appearance and agreed to release Abiri.

He said the DSS, however, rushed to the magistrate to file charges against Abiri.

Speaking to journalists, Abiri said he had been in DSS custody since July 21, 2016. “It has been a pathetic situation for me to have been facing this kind of persecution,” Abiri said. “I’m so resilient and I’ll come out successfully from this case.”

The President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Waheed Odusile, told The ICIR after the court session that Abiri did not deserve such treatment because journalism is not a crime.

“What he did was journalism and journalism is not a crime,” Odusile said. “We frown at any attempt to criminalise journalism.”

At the DSS detention, Abiri was denied visit, raising fears that he might have been killed. His prolonged unlawful detention sparked both local and international outrage.

Chikezie can be reached at comeje@icirnigeria.org. Follow him on Twitter: @KezieOmeje

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