Group raises alarm over detention of Akwa Ibom journalist
By Samuel Ogunsona
The Peoples Alternative Front has condemned the detention of another journalist by the Akwa Ibom State Government.
In a release on Wednesday made available to Irohinoodua the group said a sport’s reporter in Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Kufre Carter, was surreptitiously taken before a Magistrate Court in Uyo presided over by Magistrate Winifred M. Umohandy Esq., where he was arraigned on a three count charge bothering on defamation of character.
Secretary, People’s Alternative Fronts (PAF), Mr Eze Aloysius said Mr. Carter was accused of defaming the Commissioner for Health in Akwa Ibom State, Dr. Dominic Ukpong, in a purported private phone conversation with a certain medical doctor in which the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the state was allegedly criticised.
“We are however alarmed by the bail conditions imposed on Mr. Carter by Magistrate Winifred which are not only obnoxious, unreasonable and embarrassing, but amounts to a total mockery of the judicial system” Eze said.
He said the Magistrate Winifred Umohandy granted Mr. Carter “bail” in the sum of Three (3) Million Naira with a surety in like sum.
The group said as if that was not excessive enough, the Magistrate insisted that the surety must be a Permanent Secretary with the Akwa Ibom State Government.
It noted that not done with her outlandish conditions, the Magistrate also demanded that Mr. Carter should bring “a letter of identification” from his Village Head to the Court as part of his bail conditions.
“It is also reported that the Magistrate descended into the arena and openly showed bias when she expressed anger in open court over the way people now write things against government officials on Facebook and other social media’ Eze said
He said the People’s Alternative Fronts (PAF) is seriously disturbed by the development in Akwa Ibom State. We are are aware of the escalating attacks on critics of the state government and the use of the SSS and the Police to clampdown on dissent.
‘While we respect the institution of the judiciary, we are shocked that a Magistrate who swore to uphold the Constitution of Nigeria will allow herself to be used by questionable political actors in Akwa Ibom State to suppress the rights of citizens.
“We are also perturbed by the fact that Mr. Carter who was taken to the Court in a commando style by a large contingent of SSS operatives was remanded in the custody of the same SSS that has denied Mr. Carter access to his lawyers”
He said from its investigation the SSS did not inform the lawyers to Carter that their client was going to be arraigned in court. The lawyers only became aware by a tip- off.
The group wondered how on earth does the Magistrate expect Mr. Carter to get not just a civil servant in Akwa Ibom State, but a Permanent Secretary that works for the same government that is prosecuting him to be his surety? What is the business of Mr. Carter’s Village Head with the purported charge of defamation?
The statement continued “It is remarkable that the State Attorney General, Mr. Uwemedimo Nwoko, was sighted within the court premises before the court sat. It is also of interest to us that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in Akwa Ibom, Mr. Joseph Umoren Esq., personally appeared in court to prosecute Mr. Carter”
Eze said the developments show that the Akwa Ibom State Government is not pursuing any sincere case against Mr. Carter who has been a critic of the government, but is rather manipulating the judicial process to punish Mr. Carter for his critical views.
He group called on His Lordship, the Hon. Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Justice Godwin Abraham, to urgently rescue the state judiciary from the vicious and manipulative grip of politicians.
“We ask the judiciary to assert its independence and not allow its reputation to be further ruined. The bail conditions are outrageous. The conditions are contrary to established precedents of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court to the effect that bail conditions should be liberal”