LAGOS, Nigeria – A magistrate judge in Nigeria ordered the arrest of more than a dozen journalists who were trying cover a court hearing, leading police officers to beat some of the reporters there, witnesses said Thursday.
The arrests happened Wednesday in Lagos, where journalists had gathered to cover a coroner's inquest into the deaths of more than 20 people in an August 2010 multiple car crash and explosion. Witnesses previously have blamed the crash and deaths on an illegally mounted police checkpoint where officers had been extorting bribes from motorists.
Journalists arrived early for the hearing and were trying to find the courtroom when a prosecutor accosted them in a hallway, said Shola Soyele, a reporter for the independent private broadcaster Channels Television. Magistrate Judge A. A. Oshoniyi came out of her office and ordered police to arrest the journalists, Soyele said.
Police beat several of the journalists while arresting them, ultimately taking more than a dozen to a local police station before they were released, witnesses said.
"They were brutalized, assaulted by the police by the order of the magistrate court judge," said Mohammed Garba, the president of the Nigeria Union of Journalists. "This is not the first time we're experiencing such an unfortunate incident."
Garba said union officials and others had begun petitioning Nigeria's judiciary to take action on the arrests and assaults.
Attacks against journalists are common in Nigeria, a country of more than 160 million where corruption pervades government and business. Reporters found themselves routinely targeted during military rule of Africa's most populous nation as well, though 12 years of democracy in the nation have enshrined a belief, if not an absolute right, to free speech.
Journalism itself can be a dangerous and corrupt profession in the country. Local journalists often accept so-called "brown envelope" bribes slipped into briefing documents at news conferences or cash from interview subjects.
Others have been attacked and killed in the oil-rich nation over their reporting. Two journalists have been killed so far this year.
On Tuesday, family members discovered the corpse of an editor with the private channel African Independent Television in his home in Kaduna, local police spokesman Aminu Lawan said Thursday. Editor Ibrahim Mohammed's body had been found in a pool of blood and family members said the corpse bore wounds that made it look like he'd been attacked, Lawan said.
Police have begun an investigation into the cause of Mohammed's death, Lawan said, though his body was immediately buried Tuesday following Muslim tradition.