Three Nigerian journalists have been charged following the deaths of at least nine polio vaccinators. Police allege that comments made on-air by the radio presenters sparked the killings.
Police in northern Nigeria say that the three journalists were responsible for broadcasting a program questioning the health benefits of the polio vaccine. The show aired two days prior to the killings of at least nine female polio vaccinators in Kano on Friday.
During the program, the three journalists, all working for local Nigerian radio station Wazobia FM, discussed fears Nigerians have about the vaccine. The discussion was sparked after one of the station's journalists was attacked earlier in the week by local officials and had his recording equipment confiscated after attempting to interview a man who refused to allow his children to have the vaccine.
Kano state police commissioner, Ibrahim Idris, ordered the journalists' arrests immediately following Friday's attack. Two are still being held in custody, while the third has been released on bail.
Idris initially announced the journalists would face charges of "culpable homicide" over the women's deaths - a crime that can carry the death penalty in Nigeria.
During an arraignment hearing on Tuesday afternoon, prosecutors opted for the lesser charge of "inciting a disturbance and obstruction of a public servant."
A second hearing will take place on Thursday.
Mohamed Keita, an official with the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York, said his organization is investigating the charges against the journalists.
"We are troubled by the detentions of journalists insofar as there appears to be no evidence linking their program to the murderous attacks on the polio clinics," Keita said. "We call on Nigerian authorities to afford the journalists due process under the law."
The allegations against the journalists show the continuing struggle over free speech in Nigeria, a country that ceased military rule in 1999.
Local politicians, clerics and even doctors, mostly in northern Nigeria, claim the polio vaccine is an attempt to curb population growth. They say it sterilizes young girls. Nigeria is one of only three countries worldwide where polio is still an endemic, along with Pakistan and Afghanistan.
jlw/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)