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Nigeria Military Denies Undermining Free Speech

FILE - Men read newspapers on a street in Lagos, Nigeria, July 26, 2014. Military officers have seized newspapers from newsstands in the city of Aba for reportedly publishing materials aimed at inciting readers.

The Nigerian military has seized newspapers accused of publishing seditious materials that could undermine the country's unity, as well as negatively impact the ongoing fight against the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, according to military spokesman Colonel Sani Kukasheka Usman.

The seizures are reportedly generating anti-government sentiment in the country's Igbo-speaking southeast. Army officials say officers seized newspapers from newsstands in the city of Aba.

Officials say the publications call for secession of the region from Nigeria. The affected newspapers include Authority Newspapers, Voice of South-East, Vesym, the New Republic and the Freedom Journal.

Usman dismissed the idea that the seizures would whip up anti-government sentiment. The army works hard to ensure the West African country maintains its territorial integrity, he said. However, he added, it is regrettable that people would seek to use the country's freedom of speech to thwart social cohesion and unity.

"Contrary to some media reports that there were seizures of such nature, actually they were not newspapers per se, but some seditious publications capable of causing disaffection among the components of the Nigerian society," Usman said.

Publishers of the seized works condemned the action, saying no amount of orchestrated effort to gag the press will work. They accused the military of undermining their rights to free speech, of harassing journalists in the region, and of working to silence those deemed to be opponents of the government. The publishers also denied that their newspapers were meant to incite violence.

Usman disagreed.

"The Nigerian press is one of the most vibrant, free and independent,” he said. “We have quite a number of publications, radio stations and television stations, both locally and internationally, [that] operate unhindered."