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The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has joined the growing number of groups that have called on the Nigerian government to free the detained Nigerian journalist, Agba Jalingo, from prison.

The union in a letter to the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, said the travails of Mr Jalingo appear to be “persecution and not prosecution.”

The letter dated February 10 is signed by the NLC National President, Ayuba Wabba.

Mr Jalingo, the publisher of CrossRiverWatch, was arrested on August 22, 2019, over a report alleging that Cross River governor, Ben Ayade, diverted N500 million belonging to the state.

Mr Jalingo, who is facing treason charges, is detained in Calabar prison. The court has refused to grant him bail.

The NLC told Mr Malami, that Mr Jalingo’s trial at the Federal High Court, Calabar, has been “very unusual and controversial”.

A secret recording where the trial judge, Justice Simon Amobeda, allegedly made some “biased” remarks against Mr Jalingo was leaked to the press late last year.

The leaked audio was published by TheCable, an online newspaper, on November 14.

TheCable reported that Mr Amobeda in the secret recording insisted that Mr Jalingo’s trial would go on whether or not the defence counsel wanted to withdraw from it, and then cited the case of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the environmental activist and Ogoni leader, who was executed by Sani Abacha-led military administration on November 10, 1995.

Based on the leaked audio, Mr Jalingo had demanded his case should be transferred to another judge.

“Mr Jalingo’s travail appears to give off the scent of persecution and not prosecution,” the NLC president, Mr Wabba said in the letter.

“Such perception should not be allowed to thrive given that Nigeria is a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.

“Without going into the merits or otherwise of the case, it is important to note that Agba Jalingo’s case is giving Nigeria a very bad reputation in the international arena as it has been construed that our government has scant respect for the fundamental right to freedom of speech especially of the media. It is important to correct the perception of persecution by putting in place both judicial and administrative processes of ensuring the release of Mr Agba Jalingo from detention.

“Our concern is that the government should demonstrate that it is only interested in the lawful prosecution and not persecution of Mr. Agba Jalingo. We, therefore, request that the Honourable Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation should use his good offices and secure the release of Mr Agba Jalingo as quickly as possible,” the NLC president wrote.

The Cross River government Friday took over the prosecution of Mr Jalingo’s case from the Nigerian police.

The detained journalist is scheduled to appear on Friday before a new judge, Justice Justice Sule Shuaibu who is the administrative judge of the Federal High Court Calabar.

Amnesty International on Thursday accused Nigerian government and Cross River state government of manipulating the criminal justice system in order to keep Mr Jalingo behind bars.

The human right group said Mr Jalingo’s detention, besides being a stain on Nigeria’s image, “shows just how far (Nigerian) authorities can go to silence critics.”

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