#FreedomOfPress: Akwa Ibom Government Jails Journalist For Taking Pictures

A female journalist, Mary Ekere, has been locked in an Akwa Ibom prison for taking pictures of the state's task force raiding a city spot notorious for illegal street trading. 

Accoridng to Premium Times, the journalist has been in prison custody for two days despite efforts by the Nigeria Union of Journalists to get her released.

Ekere covers the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly for The Post, a local newspaper in the state.

She was walking past a popular recreational spot called Ibom Plaza, in Uyo, the state capital, when she saw officials of Akwa Ibom government task force raiding the spot.

She decided to take some pictures of their operation, said Gideon Ekere, the editor-in-chief of The Post.

“They were on illegal operation, obviously. So, they arrested her for taking the photos, pushed her into their vehicle, and then threw her into jail just like that,” Ekere said.

The task force is under the state government’s Environmental and Waste Management Agency headed by Prince Ikim.

The journalist was arrested on Monday around 12:30 pm and later remanded in the Uyo prisons custody the same day.

Ekere, wearing prison uniform, was taken to a sanitation court on Tuesday morning.

The newspaper quoted Amos Etuk, the chairman of NUJ in Akwa Ibom, as saying, “I went there (the court) in the morning, we were assured (by Prince Ikim) that bail conditions would be given to her and that she would be released.”

Etuk said he also got assurance from the prosecutor the journalist was going to be released on bail on Tuesday.

Ekere met her bail conditions but was taken back to the prison because the magistrate had left without signing the bail documents.

“We don’t even know how they threw her into the prison in the first place,” Mr Etuk said. “They took her to a police station, from there to the court, the magistrate was not there, so they took her to the prisons.”

Ekere’s parents, who spent all day in court, felt sad to see their daughter taken back to the prison.

“I left the court and went back to the house to prepare food for her to eat, but I was surprised to see the father come back alone,” her mother said, sobbing.

“That girl has not committed any offence.”

The NUJ issued a statement on Tuesday night condemning the arrest and arraignment of the journalist.

“The state council demands her unconditional release on or before noon on Wednesday,” the union said in the statement.

Diamond Ifiok, the information officer at the agency, said some unruly boys engaged the officials of the task force in a fight.

“Mary Ekere was within the area when this thing happened; she didn’t identify herself as a journalist. It was later at the court that she said she is a journalist,” Ifiok said.

She said the chairman of the agency, Ikim, had been informed about the journalist’s arraignment and that he was surprised she had not been released.

“You know when it gets to court, there is nothing you can actually do other than to follow the rules of the court to get yourself out,” she added.