Binniyat Under “Persecution, Not Prosecution” Says Defense Council

By ICC Nigeria Correspondent
Binniyat’s council, Yakubu Bawa, outside the courthouse on Tuesday

11/24/2021 Nigeria (International Christian Concern) – On Tuesday, the Magistrate Court in Barnawa, Kaduna State denied journalist Luka Binniyat bail for the second time. Binniyat is being held for reporting on the persecution of Christians in southern Kaduna where Christian farmers are frequently targeted by Fulani militants. Under the leadership of Governor Nasir El-Rufai, the Kaduna government has largely been silent on the issue. Binniyat’s arrest suggests that it would prefer journalists be silent on the issue as well.

Barrister Yakubu Bawa, Binniyat’s defense council, asked the judge to release Binniyat. Short of that, he requested that Binniyat be released on bail in accordance with his constitutional rights. The prosecution pushed back on these demands, asking the judge for additional time. “We need legal advice to continue the case,” said MD Leo, esquire, who represented the Commissioner of Police. “[Binniyat] can’t be granted bail.”

The Chief Judge of the Magistrate Court in Barnawa, His Worship Honorable Aliu Dogora, denied the bail and adjourned the case pending a ruling on December 6, 2021. Bawa told ICC he has “confidence Binniyat will be discharged. He is innocent—he was just expressing his freedom as a journalist. The state government’s law is threatening to journalists.”

“It is clear the prosecutor is not ready with the case,” Bawa told the court on Tuesday. “Binniyat has the right, in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to be granted bail or discharged.” Speaking with an ICC in Kaduna, Bawa protested his client’s detention. “Binniyat is facing persecution, not prosecution,” he added.

The Nigeria Union of Journalists in Kaduna State has, so far, failed to report on the persecution of Binniyat even though he is a member of the union.

“I want to celebrate Christmas with my husband,” said Binniyat’s wife, Gladys. She is the mother of five boys and one girl and told ICC that the children need him. “They want to see him—celebrating Christmas without him will affect the entire family, including his sick father who is staying with us,” she said. “It is becoming difficult to feed the children. His absent is affecting us.”

Binniyat was previously jailed in 2017 by the Kaduna state government for reporting on the persecution of Christians in Southern Kaduna. “I will encourage my husband to continue writing for persecuted Christians,” Gladys said. “He is saying the truth.”

In a press statement, the International Committee on Nigeria said Luka Binniyat was “reporting what he believed to be the truth, which should be protected by the Nigerian constitution in a so-called democratic society. His quotes were not threatening nor were they defamatory as they reported an ongoing crisis in southern Kaduna.”

Last week the U.S. Department of State announced its list of designations freedom violators around the world. Notably missing from the list was Nigeria, which last year was designated as a Country of Particular Concern for having engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.” No explanation was given for the change, which surprised human rights watchdog groups in D.C. and around the world.

“The United States has been a consistent champion of religious freedom around the world for years, so State Department’s decision to exclude Nigeria from the Country of Particular Concern list is extremely surprising and disappointing,” said Jay Church, ICC’s Advocacy Manager for Africa. “Taking Nigeria off the CPC list does not accurately reflect the dire situation on the ground in Nigeria, as Luka’s case illustrates. Persecution, directed by the government, is alive and well in Nigeria and should be universally condemned by the international community.”

ICC recently published a report analyzing how state governments in Nigeria are furthering persecution. Of particular concern are the twelve central and northern states that encourage or allow the implementation of criminal Sharia law and the use of Sharia courts to enforce Islamic religious codes.

Kaduna State, where Binniyat was arrested, is a particularly dangerous place to be a Christian in Nigeria. ICC’s recent report also highlights Kaduna’s problematic Governor El-Rufai, who recently clamped down on religious expression when he resurrected the military-era Interfaith Preaching Regulatory Council to regulate preaching and pastoring.

Though El-Rufai is pitching this as a measure to reduce religious violence, he himself has a troubling history of fueling religious tension. El-Rufai even claimed, in a tweet posted on September 8, 2014, that Christians were behind Boko Haram, funding and controlling it “to tarnish the name of Islam.” In his tweet, he accused the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and other Christians of being behind specific church bombings and shootings. Far from a front for CAN, Boko Haram is an Islamist terror group with strong ties to Islamic State.

In the days leading up to his 2019 reelection, El-Rufai whipped up public anger and physical violence when he falsely claimed that 130 Fulani had been killed in Kajuru, a locality near the capital city of Kaduna. The Fulani are a Muslim-majority ethnic group. Many, including the National Emergency Management Agency and El Rufai’s own Commissioner of Police denied his claims. In fact, eleven native Catholics were killed in Kajuru a few days before his comments. Suspected Fulani militants killed 127 people in Kajuru in the month following El Rufai’s statement in what were presumably reprisal attacks.

In 2012, El-Rufai threatened anyone who might challenge the Fulani, even in the line of military duty. “We will write this for all to read. Anyone, soldier or not that kills the Fulani takes a loan payable one day no matter how long it takes,” he tweeted. When he took office as governor in 2015, he said that “the Fulani have nothing to fear, since a Fulani [is] now governor of the state.”

El-Rufai has repeatedly used severe lockdown orders to punish protests in Christian communities. These orders prohibit villagers from leaving their homes, rendering them incapable of keeping watch for attackers. In at least seven cases, these lockdown orders have directly preceded deadly militant attacks claiming hundreds of lives over the course of El-Rufai’s governorship.

For interviews, please contact Addison Parker: [email protected].

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