ABUJA, Nigeria – Nigeria's army chief must stop intimidating a news website and drop defamation charges, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
Its statement comes after plainclothes police on Thursday detained Premium Times' publisher Dapo Olorunyomi and reporter Evelyn Okakwu for several hours, acting on a criminal complaint filed by chief of army staff Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai. They were released on condition they attend a court hearing to charge them with defamation.
Buratai had complained about the site's exclusive reporting of a major defeat suffered in an Oct. 17 battle with Boko Haram Islamic extremists that even the army acknowledged left dozens of soldiers missing in action.
The defamation charge relates to a December story by Okakwu saying the Code of Conduct Bureau was investigating Buratai for alleged false declaration of assets over a property in Dubai allegedly bought with cash within days of his July 2016 appointment to head the army.
The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the defamation suit as "a transparent ploy to intimidate and silence Premium Times' staff for their critical reporting."
A statement from Premium Times said its lawyers wrote to Buratai days ago warning that "by your letter you have threatened the lives of our clients. ... Should any harm come to them, you, the chief of army staff, and the Nigerian army should be held accountable."
Nigeria's military and government officials frequently accuse journalists of being "unpatriotic" if they report on setbacks to the military's campaign against Boko Haram's seven-year Islamic uprising.
Human Rights Watch this month noted that "While (Nigerian) media remain largely free and vibrant ... Journalists also frequently suffer intimidation and harassment related to their work."