A federal high court in Nigeria’s Kaduna state has granted bail to a local journalist from the anti-communist Epoch Times who was arrested for his reporting about attacks against predominantly Christian communities in that country and the government’s response.

The High Court in Kuwa granted bail to Luka Binniyat, a Roman Catholic, at a hearing on Thursday in which he pleaded not guilty to the charge of cyberstalking a government official, the U.K.-based group Christian Solidarity Worldwide said in a statement.

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.

In the 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.”

The Nigerian government has long refuted claims by human rights activists that a religious genocide is taking place in Nigeria’s Middle Belt states, where radicals from the Fulani herding community have been accused of invading countless Christian farming communities. The government has long attributed attacks and reprisals as being part of decades-old farmer-herder clashes. 

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 to cover up the genocide going on in Christian Southern Kaduna by describing the measure as a ‘clash’” as opposed to a targeted act of violence against Christians.

“We urge the Kaduna state authorities to ensure due process continues to be observed as his trial progresses, and to prioritize the arrest and prosecution of genuine instigators and perpetrators of violence, along with the protection of citizens regardless of creed or ethnicity,” CSW’s founder and President Mervyn Thomas said.

Binniyat’s arrest for cyberstalking is not the first time the journalist has faced legal headwinds for his reporting. 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 earlier. “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.”

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, reports that hundreds of churches have been threatened, attacked, closed, destroyed or burned in 2021. 

In the northern parts of Nigeria, criminal groups and terrorists have conducted several large-scale abductions of school children in recent years. In 2014, about 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped from a school in Chibok in the northeast Borno state by the Islamic radical group Boko Haram. As many as 112 of those girls remain missing. 

In February 2021, armed militants kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls from the Government Girls Science Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara state. The children were released weeks later.

Watchdog group Open Doors USA, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, ranks Nigeria as the ninth-worst country when it comes to Christian persecution. 

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