The Federal High Court in Abuja, on Thursday, awarded the sum of N10.5m against the Department of State Services for the illegal detention of a journalist, Jones Abiri, for over two years without charge.
Delivering judgment in a fundamental human rights enforcement suit filed on behalf of the Yenagoa-based journalist by Mr Femi Falana (SAN), Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, held that his detention for that period without trial constituted a violation of his rights.
Falana had sought among other prayers in the suit, an order directing the DSS to pay to the journalist the sum of N200m in damages for the illegal violation of his fundamental rights.
The suit prayed for a declaration that the detention of the journalist in Abuja without access to his family members, friends and medical doctors since his arrest on July 21, 2016, “is illegal and unconstitutional.”
Falana argued that the detention “violates” the applicant’s fundamental rights” including, rights to personal liberty, dignity of person, fair hearing, health and association, as well as freedom of association.
He also contended that Abiri’s rights which were violated by the DSS were guaranteed by sections 34, 35 and 40 of the Constitution as well as Articles 11 and 16 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.
While praying for an order directing the DSS to pay to the applicant the sum of N200m as “general and aggravated damages”, Falana urged the court to also make “an order directing the immediate release of the applicant (Abiri) from the custody of the respondent forthwith.”
He also prayed the court to make “an order restraining the respondent from further violating the applicant’s fundamental rights in any manner whatsoever, and howsoever without lawful justification”.
Earlier in July 2018, following a public campaign for his release, the DSS filed charges of criminal intimidation against him before a Magistrate’s Court in Abuja.
But delivering judgment on the prolonged detention of the plaintiff, Justice Dimgba held that Abiri “should have been arraigned” long ago after he was arrested and his statement obtained by the DSS.