Shortly after reporting on massacres that claimed the lives of 42 Christians in Nigeria’s Kaduna State, Luka Binniyat – a Nigeria Report contributor - was jailed by the country's federal government.
On 29 October, the American news site The Epoch Times published Binniyat’s report on the killing of four Christians in Jankasa town in the Zangon Kataf Local Government Area (a unit similar to a county) by Fulani Muslim militants on 26 October. The killings took place exactly one month after an evening attack by the same group killed 38 Christians in the village of Madamai, in the Kaura Local Government Area of Kaduna State. The report cites eyewitnesses as saying approximately 300 men who were wearing masks and dark clothing attacked Madamai.
The government of Kaduna State, which is headed by a Muslim Fulani governor, Nasiru El-Rufai, described the attacks as “clash[es] between locals and some herders” and has refused to bring the perpetrators to justice. In his report, Binniyat, who is also a leader of a Christian tribe in Kaduna, quoted sources who accused the government of complacency in the attacks.
On 4 November, Binniyat was arrested and thrown in jail by police, on the orders of the federal government. Three days later, Samuel Aruwan, the Kaduna State Commissioner of Information and Internal Security, announced that he had asked for Binniyat’s arrest, since he felt personally threatened by Binniyat’s article. “I have been compelled to take the following necessary steps: I have reported the matter to security agencies; I have requested a thorough investigation by security agencies into the publication by Mr Binniyat,” he said at a press conference held in Kaduna, the state capital.
On 9 November, Binniyat was charged in a Kaduna magistrate’s court with “cyberstalking” – the same charge brought against Binniyat in 2017 when he was jailed for 96 days after he published a story in a local daily about an attack by Fulani terrorists in southern Kaduna that year.
Under Nigeria’s Cybercrime Act of 2015, which has been widely criticized as a tool for suppressing free speech, “cyberstalking” is defined as sending any message that is “grossly offensive” or that the sender “knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance.” It is punishable by up to three years in prison.
Binniyat has denied the charges, but might not get a chance to prove his innocence soon, due to Nigeria's slow legal proceedings.
“Human rights abuse”
According to Save the Persecuted Christians, a D.C.-based advocacy coalition, Binniyat's detention is “the latest example of journalists being imprisoned on ludicrous and trumped-up charges” in Nigeria. In a petition to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the group claimed, “The abuse of Binniyat’s universal human right to freedom of expression and opinion will only serve to further mute the voice of independent journalists conducting vital reporting on rampant religious-based violence in Nigeria.”
Aruwan, the Kaduna State Security Commissioner who asked security forces to investigate Binniyat, has denied suppressing press freedom in the state. “This total misrepresentation of the issue is simply roguish, petty and mundane,” he told journalists at a news conference in Kaduna. “I have also noticed some emotional mobilization to deflect attention from the crux of this matter which is injurious falsehood and defamation, and cloak my necessary reaction as an attack on freedom of expression.”
Binniyat appeared in court again on 23 November. At that hearing, the court remanded him to custody and adjourned until 6 December, to consider his application for bail and his lawyers’ claim that the court lacks jurisdiction. He remains in detention.