Journalist and spokesperson for the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU), Luka Binniyat, has been granted bail by a Federal High Court in the capital of Nigeria’s Kaduna state, after spending 84 days in pre-trial detention.
Mr Binniyat was arrested on 4 November 2021 in connection with an article he had written criticising the Kaduna state government’s inadequate response to attacks on communities in southern Kaduna in September 2021. He is accused of defaming Samuel Aruwan, the Kaduna State Commissioner for Internal Security, in a comment attributed to the Senator for Kaduna South, Danjuma La’ah, who subsequently denied making it.
Mr Binniyat’s trial before the High Court in Kuwa was meant to commence on 24 January 2022; however, the presiding judge reportedly missed his flight, and the trial was adjourned for three days.
During the hearing on 27 January Mr Binniyat pleaded not guilty to the charges of cyberstalking and aiding and abetting the offences of cybercrime. He was formally arraigned, and the prosecuting lawyers raised no objection to his bail application. The bail terms stipulated the sum of N1million (approximately £1,800 GBP) and two sureties with the same amount who reside in Kaduna state and possess properties covered by certificates of ownership.
The trial was subsequently adjourned till 28 February. If convicted Mr Binniyat could face up to three years in prison and/or a fine of N7 million (£12,590 GBP).
This was the second time Mr Binniyat has been detained arbitrarily. In 2017 he was arrested and charged in connection with an article based on information which was later found to be false, and for which he publicly apologised, after making strenuous efforts to retract it prior to publication. After many adjournments and lengthy gaps between hearings, he was released on bail after spending 96 days in detention.
Mervyn Thomas, CSW’s Founding President said: “CSW is pleased to learn Mr Binniyat has finally been granted bail, after enduring a lengthy and unwarranted period of pre-trial detention in a maximum security prison. We urge the Kaduna state authorities to ensure due process continues to be observed as his trial progresses, and to prioritise the arrest and prosecution of genuine instigators and perpetrators of violence, along with the protection of citizens regardless of creed or ethnicity. We also reiterate our appeal to members of the international community to maintain a close scrutiny on the situation of human rights crisis in Kaduna state, particularly with regard to the freedoms of expression and religion or belief, raising issues of concern with the Nigerian government whenever necessary and assisting in addressing the violence in every possible manner.”