His Excellency Umaru Yar'Adua
President of Nigeria
We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries, to express our serious concern at the prosecution and ongoing intimidation of editor and publisher Mallam Tukur.
According to reports, on 8 February Mr Tukur, editor-in-chief and publisher of the weekly Desert Herald in Kaduna State, was arrested on defamation charges and taken to a police station in Bauchi State. He was released on bail the following day. At a hearing on 10 February, police prosecutors withdrew the charges and immediately attempted to re-arrest him under new, unspecified charges allegedly arising in neighbouring Yobe State.
Lawyers intervened, however, preventing the re-arrest on the grounds that the initial charges had not been officially withdrawn, that the police had no warrant and that seeking to effectively transfer a case from one state to another is not permitted under Nigerian law.
We are seriously concerned that Mr Turkur was arrested because of the Desert Herald's reporting on Yobe State Governor Ibrahim Geidam. Mr Tukur has been arrested three times in the past year and is now reportedly in hiding.
We respectfully remind you that prosecuting Mr Tukur for criminal libel constitutes a clear breach of the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by numerous international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Furthermore, the jailing of journalists for carrying out their profession contradicts the principles of the Declaration of Table Mountain - issued by our organisations at the 60th World Newspaper Congress and 14th World Editors Forum Conference in Cape Town, South Africa, in June 2007 - which calls for the abolition of "insult'" and criminal defamation laws in Africa as a matter of urgency.
We respectfully call on you to do everything possible to ensure that the charges against Mr Tukur are dropped immediately and that all intimidation is halted. We urge you to take all necessary steps to ensure that Nigeria fully decriminalises libel and replaces current legislation with a civil remedy of reasonable and appropriate damages.
We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Editors Forum