One Internet Writer Released, Another Detained
International PEN welcomes the provisional release of U.S.-based Internet writer Jonathan Elendu, who was held incommunicado without charge in Abuja from October 17 to October 28, 2008. However, PEN is alarmed by reports that a second U.S. -based Internet writer, Emmanuel Emeka Asiwe, has been detained incommunicado without charge since October 28. PEN believes that Asiwe, like Elendu, has been detained for his critical reporting on Nigeria. It calls on the Nigerian authorities to charge Asiwe with a recognizable criminal offense or release him immediately and unconditionally. It also asks Elendu’s release to be made unconditional and his travel documents to be returned immediately.
Jonathan Elendu, a U.S.-based Nigerian Internet writer for Elendureports.com, was provisionally released without charge on October 29. He had been detained incommunicado without charge for 11 days, having been arrested by the State Security Service (SSS) on his arrival in Abuja for a family visit on October 17. It is understood that Elendu was initially investigated for “money laundering” and later accused of “sedition.” He was questioned for five days about his alleged links to another U.S.-based Nigerian news web site, Saharareporters.com, as well his sources and funding, his opinions on the Nigerian president, and articles he had written on the president’s health. He was denied legal and medical assistance for most of his detention, only gaining access to his lawyer ten days after his arrest. Some reports suggested that Elendu was ill-treated during his detention. His travel documents remain confiscated, which means he is unable to return to the U.S.
Meanwhile, another U.S.-based Internet writer, Emmanuel Emeka Asiwe, editor of HuhuOnline, has been held incommunicado without charge by the SSS in Abuja, probably since October 28, 2008. According to the SSS, Asiwe was arrested on October 31 after his arrival from the U.S. but Asiwe’s lawyer says that he was in fact taken into custody at Lagos airport three days earlier. The SSS has reportedly stated that it is questioning the writer about “matters of national security.”
Both detentions are in contravention of Nigerian law, which stipulates that anyone arrested must be charged in court within 48 hours. There are fears that these actions are a part of a government crackdown on foreign-based Nigerian political web sites since the publication of controversial photos of President Umaru Yar’Adua’s son by a popular news blog.
Elendureports.com, set up by Elendu in Michigan in 2005, along with Saharareporters.com, to which Elendu was also accused of contributing, are among a number of diaspora-run web sites on Nigeria that frequently publish controversial stories about Nigerian politicians, corruption, the situation in the conflict area of the Niger Delta, and other sensitive subjects. Elendureports.com’s articles are reportedly often based on anonymous sources. During the 2007 Nigerian election campaign, the site erroneously reported that President Umaru Yar'Adua had died during a medical trip to Germany. HuhuOnline is based in Arlington, Massachusetts.
Write A Letter
- Welcoming the release of Internet writer Jonathan Elendu, who was detained incommunicado without charge for 11 days in October 2008;
- However, strongly protesting the incommunicado detention without charge of a second U.S.-based Internet writer, Emmanuel Emeka Asiwe, since October 28, 2008. PEN believes that Asiwe has been detained for his critical reporting on Nigeria, in violation of his right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Nigeria is party;
- Calling on the Nigerian authorities to either charge Asiwe with a recognizable criminal offense and release him on bail pending trial, or release him immediately and unconditionally;
- Asking the authorities to ensure that while Asiwe remains in detention, he is not ill-treated or tortured and that he receives access to adequate legal and medical assistance;
- Also requesting that Elendu’s release be made unconditional and his travel documents be returned to him immediately.
Send Your Letter To
Office of the Vice-President
The Presidency, State House, Abuja, Nigeria
Fax: +234 9 2 341 733/ +234 9 314 8793
Please copy appeals to Nigerian diplomatic representative in your country if possible.
Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN if sending appeals after December 4, 2008: ftw [at] pen.org