On 3 February, Luka Binniyat was finally released from detention, a week after he received bail. The charges against him have not been dropped, however.
CSI continues to call for the dropping of all outstanding charges against Luka Binniyat, all of which were related to his journalistic activities and transparently motivated by a desire to suppress reporting on the crisis in southern Kaduna.
On 31 January, Nigeria Report published the article below, explaining the difficult bail conditions imposed on Binniyat by the federal court handling his case.
Original headline: His bail conditions onerous, Luka Binniyat remains in prison at present
Supporters cheered on Thursday as Luka Binniyat, the Nigerian journalist imprisoned since 4 November for his reporting on massacres of Christians in his native Kaduna state, was finally granted bail by the federal court overseeing his case.
But the journalist remains in prison at present, while his supporters work to meet the onerous bail conditions set by the judge.
For Binniyat to be released, two different individuals must guarantee his bond. Each must have more than one million naira (about 2,400 USD) in a bank account, and each must present a “Certificate of Occupancy” identifying them as a landholder in Kaduna state.
As of Monday, January 31, Binniyat’s supporters in the Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU) were working to secure two such guarantors.
The task is even more complicated than finding individuals of sufficient means. As SOKAPU president Jonathan Asake explained in an interview on Thursday, Kaduna state’s Governor Nasir El-Rufai, widely seen as the animating force behind the campaign against Binniyat and other journalists, has consolidated the government office in charge of maintaining certificates of occupancy. To be considered valid, the certificates offered in support of bail must be ones signed by the governor.
Moreover, to meet the bail requirements, the physical copies of these certificates must be surrendered to the court - no small request, since land ownership in Nigeria is tenuous and often contested.
“Anyone who sticks his neck out for Luka Binniyat is taking a major risk,” commented Franklyne Ogbunwezeh, Christian Solidarity International’s senior research fellow for Africa. “The state can very easily make trouble for them.”
Supporters also fear that Binniyat’s detention may be prolonged by default if the judge is not available to receive the necessary documents. On multiple occasions since November, Binniyat’s prison stay has been extended because the judge in charge of his case did not show up to his hearings.
Even if Binniyat is released, the charges against him remain in force. There are also outstanding charges against him from his 2017 imprisonment, which was also triggered by an article he wrote about Fulani attacks in southern Kaduna state.
“Nigerian authorities must immediately release Luka Binniyat, and drop all charges against him related to his reporting on terrorist attacks on Nigerian civilians,” said Dr. John Eibner, the president of Christian Solidarity International. “The continuing legal campaign against him is an attack on press freedom, and nothing less.”