The International Federation of journalists has joined an appeal to the President of Nigeria from human rights groups and media campaigners after the state government at the centre of the Miss World controversy, which led to riots and more than 200 deaths last week, had issued a "fatwa" or death sentence on the author of the offending article.
"This adds a new and dangerous dimension to this tragedy," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, "It is intolerable that journalists should be targeted, intimidated and be threatened in this way."
An open letter to the President was sent by five media freedom groups after a front page story in the Nigerian Tribune yesterday announced that the State government of Zamfara had pronounced a death sentence on the journalist whose article in the Thisday newspaper on November 16 on the Miss World contest outraged Muslims and led to deadly riots.
The paper reported that the state's acting governor, Alhaji Mamuda Aliyu Shinkafi, declared at a rally in Gusau that the lady should be beheaded "as a matter of religious duty"
The IFJ, which has also written to the President, says the campaign against the newspaper and its staff has "touched intolerable and hysterical proportions."
"The deaths and destruction following the publication of the article, no matter how offensive some people found it, cannot be justified," said Aidan White. The IFJ noted that despite fulsome apologies from the newspaper over the article, which was said to be blasphemous, the Kaduna office of the newspaper was burned down by a group of protesters last week and valuables and other property were destroyed. The newspaper has also been banned in Kano State following a decision of the State Assembly last week.
Simon Kolawole, the paper's editor, was detained on Friday last week by officers of the State Security Services (SSS) in the capital Abuja after being called to an interview over the article in the paper. He was released on Monday but has to report daily to the SSS office in Lagos.
"The President of Nigeria must respond quickly to this deteriorating crisis," said Aidan White, "Our colleagues in Nigeria are right to be concerned. This is fast turning into a witch-hunt against journalists. We stand by our first response to this crisis that issues related to the content of journalism need to be resolved through dialogue and democratic accountability, not violence of any kind."