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ROBERT F. KENNEDY HUMAN RIGHTS PETITIONS U.N. TO HELP FREE IMPRISONED NIGERIAN JOURNALIST AND ACTIVIST

On Oct. 31, 2019, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights petitioned the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to press for Nigeria’s release of Omoyele Sowore from detention facility. Journalist and activist Sowore is as a prominent defender of human rights in his native Nigeria and founded the citizen journalism site Sahara Reporters. Since Aug. 3, 2019, Nigerian authorities have detained Sowore and levied baseless charges against him because he was organizing the #RevolutionNow protest movement, which aims to halt the country’s rampant government corruption.

Sowore has long been a social and political activist who has bravely spoken out against Nigeria’s corruption, wealth inequality, and broken health care system according to NBC News. In 2006 he founded Sahara Reporters, a citizen journalism platform that aims to expose not only Nigerian corruption but also the country’s human rights abuses and other political misconduct. As a pioneering advocacy journalism site in Africa, Sahara Reporters has been called the “WikiLeaks” of Africa.

Following years of political leaders’ failing to fulfill their promises to root out rampant government corruption, Sowore initiated a popular call for nationwide peaceful pro-democracy protests. On Aug. 3, 2019, two days prior to his planned #RevolutionNow protests, domestic intelligence operatives raided his hotel room without a warrant, arbitrarily arresting him early in the morning. After arbitrarily detaining Sowore for days without a charge, the Nigerian Department of State Services then requested a judicial order in order to detain him for 90 more days while investigating him for “terrorist activity.” In doing so, these officials invoked a vague provision of Nigeria’s anti-terrorism statute that is incompatible with international human rights law. While a court authorized 45 days of further detention, it eventually ordered Sowore’s release on bail at the end of that period. The Department of State Services summarily ignored the order and eventually charged Sowore with several severe (and unwarranted) crimes, including treason, money laundering, and cyberstalking (claiming his actions directly “insulted the president.”)

On Oct. 4, 2019, another judge, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, imposed burdensome bail conditions on Sowore’s release, which ensured his continued detention. (Lawyers who have been advocating on Sowore’s behalf have called for the judge’s recusal from the case.) In addition to Ojukwu’s requiring Sowore to furnish 100 million naira (about $280,000 dollars) in bail, the judge ordered him to identify two sureties whose properties in Abuja, Nigeria, have as their total worth the amount of the bail. If Sowore should meet the financial conditions, he will be released pending trial and restricted from speaking with the press, engaging in protests, and leaving the city of Abuja, even though he has no home there. Although on Oct. 21, the court reduced the amount of the bail, the impossibility of Sowore’s meeting all of the conditions have thus far translated into a de facto refusal of release and continued detention.

Sowore’s arbitrary arrest and continued detention violate multiple provisions of Nigeria’s constitution and its international human rights obligations. As detailed in the petition to the U.N. body, Nigerian intelligence officials detained and charged Sowore without proper legal justification. Sowore’s arrest and detention are direct retaliation for exercising his fundamental rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The Nigerian government illegally targeted Sowore because of his political opinion and status as a journalist and human rights defender. In addition, Nigerian authorities have repeatedly denied him due process and violated his right to a fair trial throughout the entire ordeal. They have unlawfully cut off Sowore’s contact with family members who reside in the United States after his wife called for his release in a Sep. 4, DemocracyNow! interview. Sowore has not spoken with his wife or two young children in more than two months. In recent years, Sowore has made his home in New Jersey, but continues to travel to Nigeria to persist with his longtime political and social activism. READ ON THE SITE