Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and 49 other Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have made a renewed call on the United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU) to intervene to secure the immediate release of Mr. Omoyele Sowore.
Sowore, a prominent journalist, human rights activist and pro-democracy campaigner who was arrested on 3 August 2019 for having called for a peaceful #RevolutionNow protest, is still being detained in Nigeria in violation of a Federal High Court in Abuja order issued on September 24 for the Department of State Services (DSS) to release him on bail.
The 50 human rights and press freedom organisations, who previously filed an urgent appeal concerning Mr Sowore’s case to the United Nations and African Union, have renewed their call for intervention to secure Mr Sowore’s immediate release.
Following Mr. Sowore’s prolonged detention under the 2013 Terrorism Act, Mr Sowore has been charged with treason for having called for a peaceful protest and cyber stalking for having allegedly insulted the President of Nigeria in a media interview. A third charge concerns money laundering for transferring funds for operating expenses of Sahara Reporters, Mr Sowore’s US-based online news agency that focuses on corruption and human rights abuses in Nigeria, from the outlet’s US account to its Nigerian account. All the charges are considered to be a response to Mr Sowore’s critical stance towards the government rather than any actual criminal wrongdoing.
Mr. Ayode Longe, MRA’s Programme Director said: “It is antithetical to the tenets of democracy to arrest a man who was merely exercising his constitutional right of assembly, association and expression and the height of impunity to continue to detain him even after a court of competent jurisdiction has granted him bail. The DSS must immediately and unconditionally release Sowore.”
Commenting on the charges, Nwachukwu Egbunike of Global Voices said: “Omoloye Sowore’s continued detention and the charges of treason affirm our position that this trial is merely a criminalisation of political dissent. We call on the Nigerian government to honour its own laws and the international treaties it is a signatory to. Sowore should be unconditionally released.”
The 50 CSOs had previously filed an urgent appeal on August 23, 2019, arguing that Mr Sowore’s treatment constituted a violation of his right not to be arbitrarily detained, right to a fair trial, right to freedom of expression, right of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and his rights as a human rights defender. They therefore renewed their call upon the UN and AU Special Mechanisms to intervene urgently to secure the immediate release of Mr Sowore; and declare his arrest, prosecution and continuing detention a gross violation of his human rights.
“Sowore’s case and several similar cases instigated by state governors make a hideous mockery of Nigeria’s criminal justice systems, rule of law, freedom of expression and media freedom” said Olúwádàre A. Kóláwolé of the Socio Economic Rights & Accountability Project (SERAP). Invoking charges of treasonable felony to unjustifiably or arbitrarily restrict the right to freedom of opinion and expression undermine the essence of the criminal justice system and the rule of law.
We commend Mr Sowore’s legal team in Nigeria, led by Mr Femi Falana, for continuing all efforts to get Mr Sowore’s release secured.
The organisations which made this joint call are:
All Workers’ Convergence (AWC); Afrika Movement for Freedom and Justice (AMFJ), Agege Women Agenda (AWA), Amnesty International Nigeria; Amnesty International USA; ARTICLE 19 Senegal/West Africa, Chidi Odinkalu (Open Society Justice Initiative), Centre for Constitutional Rights, Centre for Human Rights and Social Justice (CHRSJ), Coalition for Revolution (CORE), Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Community Women Initiatives (CWI), The Concerned Forum, Congress of Progressive Youths (COPY), Democratic Youth League, Edo State Civil Society Organisation (EDOSCO), Enough is Enough (EiE) Nigeria, Freedom of Expression Hub, Gani Fawehinmi Apostles, Gani Fawehinmi Memorial Organization (gafam.org), Governance Advancement Initiative for Nigeria (GAIN), Global Voice Sub-Saharan Africa, Grassroot Justice Centre, Human and Environment Development Agenda (HEDA), Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-UGANDA), IAmVocal, Index on Censorship, Media Legal Defence Initiative, Media Rights Agenda, People’s Alternative Front (PAF), Moshood Abiola Vanguard for Democracy (MAVD), Movement For People’s Rights, National Conscience Party (NCP), Lagos State Branch; Nigerians in Diaspora Europe, Belgium-Luxembourg (NIDOE-BeLux), Open Society for West Africa (OSIWA) Nigeria Office, Paradigm Initiative, People’s Alternative Front (PAF), Peoples’ Unite, Rivers State Civil Society Coalition (RIVSCO), Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), Save Lagos Group, Socialist Vanguard Tendency (SVT), Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Sovereign Vital Force, Spaces for Change, Take-It-Back (TiB) Movement, Talakawa Parliament, Veteran Group for Operation Clean Crusade (VGOCC), Women for Leadership Change, Workbond International Network (WIN), Youth In Good Governance Initiative (YIGGI).