MRA files suit to compel Fed. Govt to investigate attacks against journalists, punish perpetrators

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By Joy Odor

The Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has filed a suit asking the Federal High Court in Lagos to declare that the failure of the Federal Government to take effective measures to investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of attacks against journalists and other media practitioners is a breach of the Government’s duty under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights as domesticated in Nigeria.

It wants the court to order the Government to investigate all such attacks, punish the perpetrators and ensure that the victims have access to effective remedies.

In the suit initiated by “Originating Summons”, MRA is asking the court to hold that the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, developed and adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights pursuant to Article 45(1) of the African Charter, is a subsidiary legislation in Nigeria with binding legal effect by virtue of the fact that the Charter is a domestic law in Nigeria, that Nigeria is a State Party to the Charter, which is also an international treaty, and a member state of the Africa Union (AU).

MRA noted in the suit filed on its behalf by its lawyer, Ms Obioma Adesewa Okonkwo, against the Attorney-General of the Federation that there have been many incidents and human rights violations against journalists and media practitioners in Nigeria, including unlawful detention, assault, disappearances, torture and killings, and that there has been no arrest or investigation conducted regarding these incidents.

According to the organization, although the Nigerian Government has a statutory and treaty obligation to protect journalists and prevent attacks against them as well as a duty to punish perpetuators of these crimes by virtue of Principle 20 of the Declaration of Principles, which was developed and adopted pursuant to Article 45(1) of the Charter, the Government has persistently failed to fulfil its obligations under the Charter.

MRA is therefore asking the court to affirm that the Declaration of Principles is binding as a subsidiary legislation in Nigeria which is applicable and enforceable; and that the failure of the Government to fulfil its obligation to guarantee the safety of journalists and other media practitioners in accordance with Principle 20 of the Declaration of Principles amounts to a violation of the principle and a breach of the duty imposed by the Charter.

It is also seeking, among other things:

· A declaration that the Government’s failure to guarantee the safety of Pelumi Onifade, Precious Owolabi, Uche Uzodinma, Tom Ogazi Uhia, Friday Otabor, Emannuel Ojo, Obidinma Aku, Charles Otu and other journalists who have been attacked as well as its failure to take measures to prevent various attacks on journalists, including murder, extra-judicial killings, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearances, kidnapping, intimidation, threats and unlawful surveillance, amounts to a breach of the its duty under the Declaration and the Charter.

· A declaration that the Government’s failure to take effective legal and other measures to investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of attacks against journalists and other media practitioners, and ensure that the victims of those attacks have access to effective remedies is a breach of its duty imposed by the Declaration and the Charter;

· A declaration that the Government, by failing to guarantee the safety of journalists and other media practitioners, has breached the duty imposed on it by the Declaration and the Charter and is liable for the actions and conduct of law enforcement, security, intelligence, military and other personnel which threaten, undermine or violate the safety of journalists and other media practitioners; and

· An order directing the Government to take measures to prevent future attacks on journalists and other media practitioners and to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of all such attacks and ensure that the victims of the attacks have access to effective remedies.

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

Idowu Adewale

Communications Officer

Media Rights Agenda

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