‘‘If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” – George Washington (First President of the United States)
EiE Nigeria, Article 19 West Africa, the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights and forty-five other international and Nigerian human rights and press freedom organisations have filed an urgent appeal to the UN and AU Special Mechanisms calling for their intervention in the arbitrary arrest and detention of Nigerian journalist and human rights defender Mr Omoyele Sowore.
Mr Sowore is a prominent journalist, human rights activist and pro-democracy campaigner. He is the founder of Sahara Reporters, an online news agency based in New York City that focuses on corruption, human rights abuses and other political misconduct in Nigeria. He was arrested on 3 August 2019, following his call for a peaceful protest using the hashtag #RevolutionNow. The objective of the protest was to demand that the Nigerian government end corruption and economic inequality and guarantee education to all.
Following his arrest, Mr Sowore was initially denied access to his lawyers and he is yet to be arraigned before a competent court. No charges have been filed, but the Federal Court has granted a request from the Nigerian State Security Service to detain Mr Sowore for 45 days to conduct investigations under the 2013 Terrorism Act. Efforts by Mr Sowore’s legal team in Nigeria, led by Mr Femi Falana, to petition his release have been unsuccessful thus far.
The forty-eight organisations who filed the Urgent Appeal argue that Mr Sowore’s treatment constitutes 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. The organisations, assisted by Nani Jansen Reventlow from Doughty Street Chambers, are calling upon the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, UN Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, the situation of human rights defenders, and African Commission Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression and human rights defenders to:
- intervene urgently to secure the immediate release of Mr Sowore; and
- declare his arrest and continuing detention a gross violation of his human rights.
“The arrest and detention of Sahara Reporter’s founder, Omoyele Sowore, is without doubt a threat to press freedom and investigative journalism in Nigeria,” said La Keisha Landrum Pierre, COO of Sahara Reporters. “Sowore has used the word ‘revolution’ contextually to mean ‘change for the better’ since he founded Sahara Reporters in 2006. He then stated that he would “revolutionise” the way news is being reported: something he actually did by leading the pioneering efforts in citizen journalism in Nigeria. We are shocked that a government that rode to power on the promise to wipe out corruption and be the ‘voice of the voiceless’ is trying to silence the call for change by the same people who elected it.”
‘Yemi Adamolekun, EiE Nigeria’s Executive Director said:”The Buhari administration continues to push the limit by silencing citizens and journalist. We will continue to state clearly that the Office of the Citizen is the highest office in the land. All elected & appointed officials are subject to us.”