Epoch Times Reporter Charged With Controversial ‘Cyberstalking’ Statute Over His Reporting

Experts say statute used to silence free speech in Nigeria; reporter says he fears his life is in danger
By Douglas Burton
Douglas Burton
Douglas Burton
Douglas Burton is a former U.S. State Department official who was stationed in Kirkuk, Iraq. He writes news and commentary from Washington, D.C.
November 9, 2021 Updated: November 10, 2021

Epoch Times journalist Luka Binniyat, who has been reporting on Christian persecution in Nigeria by suspected Fulani jihadists, has been charged with cyberstalking the head of state security for Nigeria’s Kaduna state because of his reporting.

Binniyat was arraigned on Nov. 9 at the Barnawa Magistrate’s Court in Kaduna. Human rights advocates say that cyberstalking is a charge often used in Nigeria to silence the press.

Samuel Aruwan, the commissioner of state security in Kaduna, filed a criminal complaint against Binniyat that prompted his arrest on Nov. 4. An article by Binniyat published on Oct. 29 in The Epoch Times was evidence of inciting violence and had endangered him personally, Aruwan told a press conference on Nov. 8.

The article was headlined “In Nigeria, Police Decry Massacres as ‘Wicked’ But Make No Arrests.”

“On 29th October 2021, my attention was drawn to an online publication authored by one Luka Binniyat. In this publication, Mr. Binniyat quoted Senator Danjuma Laah of the Southern Kaduna Senatorial District, as stating that I am being used to cover up a genocide against Christians in Southern Kaduna,” Aruwan wrote in the complaint.

“I am supremely concerned first, for the implications of such a statement on the peace and security of our state, because of the religious and ethnic sentiments it has conveyed,” Aruwan, a self-identified Christian, wrote on Nov. 8.

He went on to say that he felt threatened by the reporting.

“This material has exposed my life and the lives of my family to grave and immediate danger,” he wrote.

Cyberstalking was instituted as a crime in Nigeria in 2015. It’s defined as “the act of threatening, harassing, or annoying someone through multiple email messages, as through the Internet, especially with the intent of placing the recipient in fear that an illegal act or an injury will be inflicted on the recipient,” according to ResearchGate.

More than 60,000 Nigerian citizens, including many unarmed women and children, have perished during violent, sectarian attacks since 2009, according to the International Committee on Nigeria (ICON).

The cyberstalking law is aimed at shutting down factual reporting, according to ICON Executive Director Kyle Abts.

“Binniyat is charged with ‘cyberstalking under the cybercrime law,’ which many legal experts believe is another form by the Nigerian government to prevent freedom of expression,“ he told The Epoch Times.

Tep-rick Emmanuel, assistant public relations officer of the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union, said that Binniyat had been moved from the Kakuri Police jail to the Criminal Investigation Division facility in Kaduna state.

Binniyat sent a text to his colleagues on Nov. 8 as he waited for his court appearance, saying that he feared for his life.

“I fear that my life is in danger. I was smuggled here from the police detention facility in Gabasawa police cell after four days without trial and dehumanizing cell condition,” Binniyat wrote in a message to journalist John Shiklam, a friend.

“I am yet to be taken before a judge,” Binniyat wrote on the fifth day of his detention by police.

“I just managed to get this phone,” he added.

He’s represented by barrister Yakubu Galadima, who will petition the court to move the case to a high court to enable the magistrate to grant cash bail, Emmanuel said.

“I believe the bail can be granted soon,” he said.

Yet, other observers believe the state authorities seek to prevent Binniyat from getting bail, since the magistrate’s court doesn’t have authority to grant bail for the charge of cyberstalking, which isn’t under its authority.

“This is what the prosecution did to Steven Kefas two years ago,” according to one court attendee, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal. “They were expected to try Luka on defamation and injurious false statement, but they changed it to cyberstalking, knowing that the magistrate’s court has no authority over that crime, and knowing that it may take time to get into the high court’s docket.”

Kefas, an internet journalist, was charged with cyberstalking in 2019 and spent 160 days either in jail or the main Kaduna prison, he told The Epoch Times.

Abts said: “Cybercrime elevates his case to a higher court, giving Kaduna State Governor Nasir el-Rufai more oversight over Binniyat’s case, which is dire for him, as without proper care and legal guidance, he will languish in a Nigerian prison.

“Luka Binniyat is trying to report the truth and share it with the world. He is being prevented to freely express his thoughts, beliefs, and the reality in Nigeria.”

California attorney and theologian John Stewart told The Epoch Times in an email: “The charges against Luka Binniyat, according to my sources, bear a striking resemblance to the tactics employed against other journalists in Nigeria for the crime of accurately reporting the truth about the genocide against Christians in Nigeria.

“If my sources in Kaduna are correct, a federal charge of ‘cyberstalking’ was added to state charges that include ‘incitement’ against Binniyat for his article that was published in the Epoch Times on Oct. 29.

“A federal charge prevents the local magistrate from granting bail, meaning Binniyat will languish in jail until the matter can be transferred to a federal magistrate who is able to grant bail. It can take several weeks or longer for a case to be formally transferred to a federal magistrate.

“Remaining in the squalid conditions of a Kaduna state jail sends a stark message that Binniyat and other journalists who expose government complicity and corruption in the terrorist attacks on Christians in Nigeria will incur the wrath of the government.”

Rev. Johnnie Moore, a two-time commissioner on the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, urged human rights organizations to raise their voices against the persecution of a reporter.

“The authorities in Nigeria are now incarcerating journalists working on behalf of international media organizations? Instead of working so hard to make excuses for the atrocities being committed in the country, they should be putting that energy into fixing them,” Moore wrote to The Epoch Times.

“I hope the chorus of global outrage is so loud that it cannot be ignored because it doesn’t seem that anyone is listening to thousands of quiet cries of Nigeria’s innocent victims.”

Douglas Burton is a former U.S. State Department official who was stationed in Kirkuk, Iraq. He writes news and commentary from Washington, D.C.