JOURNALIST SPENT 3 YEARS IN PRISON
By Dana Peck
Special to the Florida State Times
Florida State graduate Christiana Anyanwu, 47, walked out of Kadu Prison in central Nigeria on June 15, suffering from lack of medical care, but apparently undaunted by her ordeal.
Anyanwu's release came four days after American journalists, including another Florida State alumnus, made forceful appeals for her freedom.
Anyanwu had been in prison for three years for publishing articles critical of the government.
"Nigerian prisons are a hell where one should thank her God if one eventually comes out alive," Anyanwu said as soon as she was out of prison, according to the International Freedom of Expression Exchange Clearinghouse. "Experiences in the prison where human beings die almost on a daily basis due to ill treatment are confirmed to me."
Days after his wife's release, Casimir Anyanwu commented from his home in Washington, D.C., that Anyanwu's spirit is consistent with her character.
"She is a very strong girl," said her husband, a visiting professor at Howard University. "I think she's done Florida State very proud."
Larry Lipman, who studied at Florida State about the same time Anyanwu did - the late 1970s - is now writing for the Washington bureau of the Palm Beach Post.
Though Lipman has never met Anyanwu, he wrote a column about her imprisonment which appeared in early June in Cox Newspapers throughout the United States.
"I wrote the column because she was a Seminole," said Lipman from his office in Washington. "This was an egregious breach of freedom of the press."
Anyanwu's cause was championed also by the National Press Club and other press freedom organizations.
Less than a week before her release, National Press Club members appealed to the Nigerian embassy on her behalf.
"Our calling attention helped the case," Lipman said.
Casimir Anyanwu said that he and Ihuoma, the Anyanwus' 24-year-old daughter, and Nduwueze, their 16-year-old son, were confident that Anyanwu would be released when General Sani Abacha lost power in Nigeria. Abacha imprisoned at least 17 journalists and executed writer Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other political activists during his rule.
The despot died in early June, and General Abdulsalam Abubakar became chairman of the Provisional Ruling Council. Abubakar has promised democratic leadership.
During the three years she was incarcerated, national and international organizations bestowed various awards on Anyanwu for her work. Her most recent honor - a $25,000 award as the recipient of the UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize - was presented this year.
Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka accepted it on Anyanwu's behalf.
Anyanwu received part of her training as a journalist at Florida State in the late 1970s. Two years after earning a bachelor's degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1977, she earned a master's in mass communication at FSU.
While she studied, Anyanwu's husband taught accounting at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, and completed his doctorate at the University of Missouri.
Lipman was also taking graduate courses at FSU at the time and reported for the Orlando Sentinel at its Tallahassee bureau. Lipman moved to Washington in 1984, and now reports on government affairs for the Palm Beach Post.
As soon as she received her master's, Anyanwu rejoined her husband and daughter in her native Nigeria, and began reporting for Nigerian television. Then she established The Sunday Magazine, and became its publisher and editor-in-chief.
In 1993, Anyanwu challenged the nullification of the election of Chief Moshood Abiola. (He died in prison soon after Anyanwu was released.)
She was arrested and secretly tried for treason on July 4, 1995, after writing an article about a coup attempt against Abacha. Initially, the junta court sentenced Anyanwu to life imprisonment. Later the sentence was reduced to 15 years.
In prison, Anyanwu was denied visits from her family and her lawyer and medical attention, according to news reports. Soon after her imprisonment, Anyanwu's husband left Lagos with their family. In Nigeria, it was common for punishment by the government to extend to members of journalists' families.
Casimir Anyanwu expects his wife in the United States this summer. He said that with medical care her failing eyesight would be restored.
The National Press Club has raised $2,500 to help with Anyanwu's travel plans and medical attention. The organization, along with others throughout the world, is still calling for the release of journalists remaining in Nigerian prisons.
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