UPDATE: Journalist Niran Malaolu released in Nigeria

Wednesday, March 17, 1999

Journalist Niran Malaolu released in Nigeria

17 March 1999

Niran Malaolu, the last journalist known to remain in jail in Nigeria, was pardoned and released on 4 March, report local groups. Malaolu, deputy editor of "The Diet", was released from a 15-year sentence after he was detained in December 1997 for reporting on an alleged coup. Besides Malaolu, 95 other prisoners convicted for having participated in the alleged coup attempt against the previous ruler, General Sani Abacha, were also reportedly pardoned.

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) mounted a campaign in September 1998 to free Malaolu. CJFE sent by courier over 200 letters signed by members and supporters of CJFE urging the new leader Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar to free Malaolu.

Malaolu was originally sentenced to life imprisonment on 28 April by the Special Military Tribunal (SMT) which tried persons allegedly involved in a coup plot the government claimed to have uncovered on 21 December 1997, had his sentence reduced to 15 years in prison by the Provisional Ruling Council (PRC).

Malaolu was arrested on 28 December 1997 along with three of his colleagues at "The Diet". The three others were later released, but Malaolu was arraigned on 14 February 1998 along with 27 others at the inauguration of the SMT. He was convicted of "information gathering" and implicated in the alleged December 1997 coup plot.

Despite the journalist's release, groups concerned with free expression in Nigeria note that the country's new President, retired General Olusegun Obasanjo, elected on 28 February, was the author of many of the repressive media laws on the books in Nigeria, passed when he was president in the 1970s. Obasanjo was also the first leader to have banned media outlets.

For background on the case, see CJFE's protest letter dated 22 September 1998.

For more news on recent events in Nigeria, visit the website of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) at www.ifex.org.