Nigeria’s domestic intelligence agency, the Department of State Services (DSS), on May 27, 2020, released Mr. Kufre Carter, a sports journalist with a local radio station, XL 109.6 FM located in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State according to Kufre’s lawyer, Mr. Inibehe Effiong. The release comes exactly one month after the journalist was arrested.
Kufrewas arrested on April 27 by the DSS and charged with defamation for allegedly “castigating” the Commissioner for Health in Akwa Ibom State, Dominic Ukpong, over his handling of the fight against COVID-19 pandemics in the state.
Although he was initially granted bail by the court, the DSS continued to detain him. This attracted outrage from several Nigerians and rights groups, including Amnesty International, SERAP, the International Press Centre, Lagos, and the Committee to Protect Journalists.
According to Inibehe, Kufre’s release “came after the Director-General of the SSS, Alhaji Yusuf Bichi, ordered the SSS Command in AkwaIbom State to comply with the valid and subsisting order of the Court ….”
Kufre was arrested over an audio clip from his interview with an anonymous medical doctor on COVID-19, and which was circulated on social media.
In the audio clip, the doctor alleged foul play perpetrated by the State Governor, Udom Emmanuel, to manipulate the figures of COVID-19 tests in the state to downplay its magnitude.
Prior to his arrest, Kufresaid in a tweet that he received a call from the Director of Operations, DSS Uyo Command, Mr. Uchechukwu Nnatube inviting him to the DSS office to answer questions over his involvement in the audio interview with the doctor. He honoured the invitation in the company of his lawyer, Augustine Asuquo and he was taken into custody by DSS operatives.
His lawyer said he was not allowed to witness the interrogation of the journalist and was walked out of the premises by the security agents.
He said Nnatube later contacted him, demanding Kufre’s phone so that they could extract the purported audio recordings of the interview adding, the operatives also requested for the phone number of the anonymous doctor.
InibeheEffiong, Head of InibeheEffiong Chambers who also offers legal representation to Kufre, later said in a statement that Kufre was being tortured by DSS operatives to forcefully obtain a confession from him.
Inibehe said: “From all indications, we reasonably believe that SSS officers are torturing Kufre Carter in their custody in their effort to extract a ‘confessional statement’ from our client. The SSS is torturing our client for him to hand over his private mobile phone to them.”
The lawyer said he had called Nnatube on phone to express his displeasure with his office’s handling of the case, but his calls were ignored.
He said he was aware that the Akwa Ibom State Government instigated the DSS to hunt, arrest, torture and detain Kufre over the alleged audio record after facing increasing public criticisms over their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the state.
He also disclosed that Kufre’s house had been searched by the SSS illegally looking for his personal phone.
The lawyer called on Nigerians and the international community to prevail on the SSS in Akwa Ibom State to act as a responsible law enforcement agency and release Kufre immediately, and stop behaving like colonial police for politicians and public office holders in Akwa Ibom State.