Journalists covering a criminal trial at the Abuja High Court in Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory were on April 10, 2013, attacked in the court premises by fraud suspects and their supporters in an on-going trial over the embezzlement of Police pension fund of over N40 billion.
Supporters of one of the suspects in the trial, Mrs. Uzoma Attang, swooped on journalists who attempted to take photographs of the suspects as they stepped out of the court room.
A supporter of Mrs. Attang manhandled and slapped Mr. Rotimi Osasona, a photojournalist with ‘National Mirror’. His camera was damaged by Mrs. Attang’s supporters who tried to shield her from being photographed.
Another accused person, Mrs. Veronica Onyegbula, personally hit Desmond Kolawole, a cameraman with Galaxy Television, who recorded her on video while she was stepping out of the court and attempting to cover her face with an item of clothing.
Other photojournalists were also chased around the court premises and assaulted while trying to take photographs of the accused persons who were shielded from the press by their associates and supporters.
Condemning the incident, Media Rights Agenda’s (MRA) Executive Director, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, said such attacks on media professionals in the course of their legitimate duties amount to a grave violation of media freedom and the right to freedom of expression.
According to Mr. Ojo, “that these incidents took place in the premises of the court makes the situation even more egregious. No court should tolerate such flagrant contempt of its authority. We accordingly call on the Court to investigate the matter and hold the affected accused persons and their supporters who are found to be complicit in the attacks in contempt of the court.”
MRA also called on the relevant law enforcement agencies to prosecute the perpetrators, at a minimum, for breach of the peace and assault, saying unless such measures are taken, those who are charged with upholding and enforcing the Law would themselves be contributing to instituting a culture of impunity in the country.