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Intelligence agents raid TV station during programme about President Obasanjo

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has condemned the 17 April 2007 heavy-handed raid by Nigeria's domestic intelligence agency, the State Security Service (SSS), on the Abuja studios of African Independent Television (AIT), a privately-owned station.

"With several elections due to be held this year, the federal government is violating the law with impunity in order to control news and information and to silence media that irritate it," the press freedom organisation said. "These repeated, heavy-handed raids bode ill for democracy in Nigeria. They just aggravate the climate of violence and lead to polarization."

Forty-eight hours after a fire of unknown origin damaged AIT's offices in Lagos, SSS agents stormed the station's studios in Abuja in the middle of the afternoon on 17 April and, at gunpoint, ordered all employees to lie face down. Before leaving, they took the video-cassettes of several programmes that were about to be broadcast, along with the one that was being broadcast at that moment, about outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo's eight years in office.

SSS agents previously raided AIT on 14 May 2006 and confiscated the cassette of "A Documentary on Tenure Elongation," which was about previous presidents' failed attempts to prolong their terms of office. Gbenga Aruleba, the host of "Focus Nigeria," a programme in which political figures are invited to debate current events, was arrested and held for 48 hours (see IFEX alert of 15 June 2006).

Reporters Without Borders added the SSS to its list of Press Freedom Predators in 2005 because of its frequent commando-style raids on privately-owned news organisations.

Meanwhile, the seals are still in place at the entrance of the office that houses two privately-owned broadcast media, Link FM and GTV, in the Lagos neighbourhood of Ketu. Eight members of the security forces security forces raided the premises on 11 April, ordered all the employees to leave and then placed seals over the entrance, saying they were acting on "an order from above."

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