A Nigerian magistrate has scheduled the trial of a local journalist from the anti-communist Epoch Times, who was arrested for reporting about attacks against predominantly Christian communities and the government’s failure to protect its citizens.
Luka Binniyat, a Catholic journalist who was arrested last November, will stand trial on Sept. 6 on charges of "cyberstalking" and aiding and abetting the offenses of cybercrime, the charges that he has denied, Catholic News Agency reported.
The Epoch Times’ Africa Desk Editor Doug Burton earlier attributed Binniyat’s arrest to an Oct. 29 article he wrote, titled “In Nigeria, Police Decry Massacres as ‘Wicked’ But Make No Arrests.” The article is part of the newspaper’s coverage of the deadly persecution of Christian farming communities in the African country that human rights advocates say has escalated to near “genocidal levels” in recent years as thousands have been killed.
Christians in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, which includes northern Kaduna state, are regularly targeted and killed by radicalized ethnic Fulani militants, the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern said in a statement, explaining that since most Christians in Nigeria are farmers, and the Fulani are nomadic herders, it's common for the situation to be characterized as a farmer-herder conflict rather than the genocide that it is.
"Binniyat’s arrest and trial are an attempt to silence journalists who speak out about attacks on Christians in Nigeria," CNA quoted Robert Destro, a law professor at The Catholic University of America and a former assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor during the Trump administration, as saying.
“No politician likes criticism, but most understand that a reporter’s job is to find the facts and report them honestly,” Destro said.
In his article, Binniyat pushed back on Kaduna’s Commissioner of Internal Security and Home Affairs Samuel Aruwan’s characterization of an attack on Christian farmers in the state as a “clash.”
According to a recent study from the Anambra-based International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law, at least 60,000 Christians have been killed in the past two decades in Nigeria. The organization, which is run by Christian criminologist Emeka Umeagbalasi, reported that hundreds of churches had been threatened, attacked, closed, destroyed or burned in 2021 alone.
In his article, Binniyat included a quote from a Nigerian senator who accused the Kaduna government of “using Samuel Aruwan, a Christian, to cause confusion and cover up the genocide going on in Christian Southern Kaduna by describing the attacks as a ‘clash’” as opposed to a targeted act of violence against Christians.
Binniyat was reportedly released on bail in February but his health deteriorated while imprisoned, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom noted, saying he suffers from an ailment in his joints and one of his knees that required him to use crutches to walk.
He was previously imprisoned in 2017 for “breach of the peace.”
The journalist had previously served as the bureau chief of Vanguard Newspapers until 2017.
“Then after he was imprisoned, I don’t think he got hired by any newspaper group because, the way it was explained to me, he’s considered a controversial reporter,” Burton told The Christian Post in an earlier interview. “So I started working with him in March this year, maybe May of this year. And I encouraged him to … compile reports for The Epoch Times. I worked with him as his editor. And so he’s published some very timely and factual reports about kidnappings and mass murders this year.”
Binniyat is married with six children.