In his first trip to Africa, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed a $2.1 billion assistance agreement with Nigeria to support health care, education, agriculture, and good governance. But a small-town Baptist preacher told him in a Nov. 19 private meeting that what persecuted Nigerian Christians want most is free speech.
“Recently they have put one journalist, Luka Binniyat, behind bars for reporting a true story to an American audience,” the Rev. Joseph Hayab, chairman of the Kaduna state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, told Blinken in a small group meeting.
“Our government is full of lies, and to make sure the world does not get the truth of what is happening in Nigeria, they are against free speech. Binniyat is in prison only because the government wants to silence him,” Hayab told The Epoch Times, when recalling his meeting with Blinken.
Hayab and four other representatives of Nigeran civil society met with Blinken for a “heart to heart” exchange of views at the Embassy.
Binniyat, a contributor to The Epoch Times, was arrested on Nov. 4 and later charged with “cyberstalking” in connection with a story that a high official claimed was a threat to him. Cyberstalking is a charge that experts say has been used by the Nigerian government to silence journalists. Binniyat is being held in the main Kaduna prison.
Hayab said the State Department’s recent delisting of Nigeria as a “country of particular concern” (CPC)—a country judged to be guilty of particularly severe violations of religious freedom—is frustrating to him.
“How can they say the situation is improving when on Oct. 31, a whole Baptist congregation of 66 people [was] abducted, and just last night, the bandits put out a video saying they are doing it because they are against Christians?” Hayab said. “What he [Blinken] did baffles us, because Christians in Nigeria and others suffering persecution feel like they cannot rely on the U.S. government to help them.