Civil rights group, People’s Alternative Fronts, has condemned the detention of a sports journalist based in Akwa Ibom, Mr Kufre Carter, in prison custody for allegedly defaming Commissioner for Health in the state, Dr Dominic Ukpong.
The group condemned the bail conditions attached to the release of the journalist by Magistrate Winifred M. Umohandy of the Magistrate Court, Uyo, who presided over the case.
In a statement by Secretary of PAF, Eze Aloysius, the group said, “On Wednesday, 29th April, 2020, a sport’s reporter in Akwa Ibom State, Mr Kufre Carter, was surreptitiously taken before a Magistrate Court in Uyo presided over by Magistrate Winifred M. Umohandy, where he was arraigned on a three-count charge bothering on defamation of character.
“Mr Carter is accused of defaming the Commissioner for Health in Akwa Ibom State, Dr Dominic Ukpong, in a purported private phone conversation with a certain medical doctor in which the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the state was allegedly criticised.
“We are however alarmed by the bail conditions imposed on Mr Carter by Magistrate Winifred which are not only obnoxious, unreasonable and embarrassing, but amounts to a total mockery of the judicial system.
“Magistrate Winifred Umohandy granted Mr. Carter “bail” in the sum of N3m with a surety in like sum.
“As if that was not excessive enough, the magistrate insisted that the surety must be a Permanent Secretary with the Akwa Ibom State Government.
“Not done with her outlandish conditions, the magistrate also demanded that Mr Carter should bring “a letter of identification” from his village head to the court as part of his bail conditions.
“It is also reported that the magistrate descended into the arena and openly showed bias when she expressed anger in open court over the way people now write things against government officials on Facebook and other social media.
“The People’s Alternative Fronts is seriously disturbed by the development in Akwa Ibom State. We are aware of the escalating attacks on critics of the state government and the use of the DSS and the olice to clampdown on dissent.
“While we respect the institution of the judiciary, we are shocked that a magistrate who swore to uphold the constitution of Nigeria will allow herself to be used by questionable political actors in Akwa Ibom State to suppress the rights of citizens.
“The DSS from our investigation did not inform the lawyers to Carter that their client was going to be arraigned in court. The lawyers only became aware by a tip- off.
“It is remarkable that the state Attorney-General, Mr Uwemedimo Nwoko, was sighted within the court premises before the court sat. It is also of interest to us that the Director of Public Prosecutions in Akwa Ibom, Mr Joseph Umoren, personally appeared in court to prosecute Mr Carter.
“All these clearly show that the Akwa Ibom State Government is not pursuing any sincere case against Mr Carter who has been a critic of the government but is rather manipulating the judicial process to punish Carter for his critical views.
We strongly condemn these actions. We call on His Lordship, the Hon. Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Justice Godwin Abraham, to urgently rescue the state judiciary from the vicious and manipulative grip of politicians.
“We ask the judiciary to assert its independence and not allow its reputation to be further ruined.
“The bail conditions are outrageous. The conditions are contrary to established precedents of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court to the effect that bail conditions should be liberal.
“Mr Carter should be allowed to enjoy his constitutional right to presumption of innocence until he is proven guilty.
“Sadly, it appears Magistrate Winifred Umohandy has already convicted him.”