The United States-based Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights has petitioned the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of Omoyele Sowore.
Sowore is a prominent human rights defender, activist, journalist, and founder of the citizen’s journalism site, SaharaReporters.
Sowore has been arbitrarily detained by the President Muhammadu Buhari regime since August 3, which levied baseless charges against him for organizing the #RevolutionNow protest movement, a movement with aims to oppose the rampant government corruption that still plagues the country.
“Mr. Sowore has a long history as a social and political activist, bravely advocating against corruption, wealth inequality, and Nigeria’s broken health care system.
“In 2006, Mr. Sowore founded SaharaReporters — a citizen’s journalism platform that focuses on exposing corruption, human rights abuses, and other political misconduct in Nigeria. A frontier news source for advocacy journalism in Africa, Sahara Reporters has been referred to as the ‘Wikileaks’ of Africa.
“Following years of unfulfilled promises to address rampant government corruption, Mr. Sowore began a popular call for nationwide peaceful pro-democracy protests,” the US-based organization said in a statement made available to SaharaReporters on Saturday.
On August 3, 2019, two days prior to the planned #RevolutionNow protests, the Department of State Services operatives raided Sowore’s hotel room without a warrant, arbitrarily arresting in the early hours of the morning.
After arbitrarily detaining him for days without charge, the DSS, eventually requested a judicial order to detain Sowore for an additional 90 days in order to investigate him for “terrorist activity”, invoking an overly vague provision of Nigeria’s anti-terrorism incompatible with international human rights law.
While a court authorized 45 days of further detention, it eventually ordered Sowore to be released on reasonable conditions of bail upon the expiry of the 45-day term — an order which was summarily ignored by the DSS, who eventually charged Sowore with several baseless yet severe criminal charges, including treason, money laundering, and cyberstalking for “insulting the president”.
Subsequently, on October 4 a separate Nigerian judge who local lawyers had called to recuse herself, imposed unduly burdensome bail conditions on Sowore’s release, ensuring his continued arbitrary detention.
Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu’s unprecedented and burdensome financial conditions on Sowore’s release included the provision of a sum of N100 million (about $280,000), in addition to providing two sureties who must reside and have landed properties in Abuja equal to the amount of the bail.
The conditions also restricted Sowore from talking to the press, engaging in protests and leaving the city of Abuja, even though he has no home in the city.
Although the financial bail conditions were slightly lessened on October 21, the impracticality of the conditions has to date amounted to an effective refusal of bail and de facto order of continued arbitrary detention.
The statement added, “Mr. Sowore’s arbitrary arrest and continued detention violate multiple provisions of the Nigerian Constitution and Nigeria’s international human rights obligations.”
As detailed in the petition, Nigerian intelligence officials detained and charged Sowore without proper legal justification.
“Mr. Sowore’s arbitrary arrest and detention were in direct retaliation for the exercise of his fundamental rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, illegally targeting Sowore based on his political opinion and status as a journalist and human rights defender.
“In addition, the Nigerian government has repeatedly denied Mr. Sowore due process and violated numerous fair trial rights throughout the entire ordeal, including by unlawfully cutting off Sowore’s contact with his family, who reside in the United States, after his wife gave an interview with DemocracyNow! calling for her husband’s release.
“Mr. Sowore has not spoken to his wife or two young children in over two months.”