…Say His Arrest is a Threat to Press Freedom, Investigative Journalism Forty-eight international and Nigerian human rights and press freedom organisations have filed an urgent appeal to the United Nations and African Union Special Mechanisms calling for their intervention in the arbitrary arrest and detention of Nigerian journalist and human rights defender, Mr Omoyele Sowore.
…Say His Arrest is a Threat to Press Freedom, Investigative Journalism
Forty-eight international and Nigerian human rights and press freedom organisations have filed an urgent appeal to the United Nations and African Union Special Mechanisms calling for their intervention in the arbitrary arrest and detention of Nigerian journalist and human rights defender, Mr Omoyele Sowore. This is coming against the strident call by 51 other groups who decry the shrinking public space in the country.
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 (SAN), to petition his release have been unsuccessful thus far.
The 48 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 Ms Nani Jansen Reventlow from the London-based internationally renowned law firm, 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.”
Joy Hyvarinen, head of advocacy at Index on Censorship said: “Index on Censorship urges the Nigerian authorities to release the prominent journalist and campaigner Omoyele Sowore immediately. The arrest and detention are a shocking violation of Mr Sowore’s human rights, which calls into question Nigeria’s willingness and ability to meet international human rights obligations.”
Prominent among the organisations that endorsed the statement include ARTICLE 19 Senegal/West Africa, Centre for Constitutional Rights, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Human and Environment Development Agenda (HEDA), Open Society for West Africa (OSIWA) Nigeria Office, Media Rights Agenda and Paradign Initiative.
Others include 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), Index on Censorship, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Take-It-Back (TiB) Movement, Women for Leadership Change and Youth In Good Governance Initiative (YIGGI)..
Fifty one civil society groups have also lamented the shrinking of the public space in the country.
“Since return of democracy in 1999 and particularly following the 2019 general elections, the citizens were very hopeful of renewed vigour in addressing the myriad of problems bedeviling the country ranging from intensification of insecurity, the deepening of corruption, growing poverty and unemployment as well as flagrant and frequent disrespect of the rule of law.
“Nigerians believed that the Administration which received the mandate of Nigerians for another four-year term would reciprocate the people’s goodwill and trust; and commit itself to expand the civic space and facilitating citizen’s engagement in an expanding democratic space.
“We, the undersigned civil society organisations have observed with great concern and indeed, alarm, massive violation of the rights of citizens, including the right to protest, concerted attacks of media organisations, press freedom and civil society organisations:
- Media harassment and intimidation
“The Nigerian mass media has become a regular focus of illegal attacks by the security agencies. Unlawful arrest and detention of journalists have become a growing phenomenon, and our great tradition of a free press and freedom of expression is under severe stress.
- Constant Harassment of Human Rights and Anti-corruption Civil Society Organisations
“The Nigeria state is currently engaged in continuous attacks on human rights and anti-corruption civil society organisations and activists in the country. An instance is the unfair attack on Amnesty International Nigeria by some security agencies and unscrupulous agents using hoodlums and miscreants threatening Amnesty International Nigeria to vacate the country. Trying to force a legal organisation that has all Nigeria citizens to vacate and leave the country without an attempt by security agencies to protect their rights is unacceptable.
- The Unlawful ban on protest
“We are gravely concerned over the unlawful statement issued by the authorities of the Nigeria Police Force threatening to prosecute the organisers of the peaceful rallies in Nigeria. There are existing provisions of law and judicial authorities recognising the fundamental rights of the Nigerian people to non-violently convene and participate in rallies, demonstration and protest marches. Fundamentally, the provision of the 1999 constitution of Nigeria as amended that “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons…” is sacrosanct and must be protected.
“We therefore, call for restrained of arbitrary misuse of power against the citizens for a non-violent protest, demonstration to express their views.
“We demand immediate release of all activists who are in detention for exercising their fundamental rights.
“We call on security agencies and government officials to ensure total compliance to the rule of law as provided for in our legal system.
“We also call on government to respect and allow the flourishing of civil space for meaningful contribution to democratic governance in Nigeria.
“We further call on government to be more accountable and responsive to the citizenry they were elected to serve for good governance.
Amongst organisations that endorsed this statement include the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Centre for Democratic Research and Training (CRDDERT), Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), Education As a Vaccine Against Women, Baobab for Women’s Human Rights, Nigerian Feminist Forum, Alliances for Africa and Space for Change.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has also called for the release of Convener of RevolutionNow protest, Mr Omoyele Sowore.
General Secretary of Congress, Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson in a statement made available to newsmen in Abuja, said the attack on #RevolutionNow protesters and arrest of some of them by security agents was an affront on the nation’s democracy.
He said peaceful protests against bad governance, was one of the fundamental rights aiding the growth of democracy.
The NLC scribe warned that security agencies must stop portraying themselves as anti-democracy forces as the August 5 attacks so clearly demonstrated.
The statement reads: “It is with deep consternation that we view the attacks and arrests of peaceful protesters in some parts of the country by security agencies and military personnel on Monday during a protest by some Nigerians in Lagos, Osogbo, Ibadan, Abuja and other cities.
“There is nowhere in our constitution or laws that the security agencies are empowered to so brazenly attack peaceful protests and hound its organisers into detention as the right to peaceful protests, assembly and association is fully guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria under sections 39 and 40.
“We view the violent attack on the peaceful protesters by security forces as a total violation of the fundamental rights of not just the protesters, but all Nigerian citizens as guaranteed by the constitution as well as various reported judgements of our Courts.
“Besides, peaceful protests against bad governance or perceived anti-people government policies are one of the critical fundamental rights that expand the entrenchment and growth of democracy and our security agencies must not be allowed to continue to portray themselves as anti-democracy forces as the Monday attacks so clearly demonstrated.
“It is much more worrisome that soldiers were deployed to attack protesters, especially in Lagos. To us, soldiers have no role whatsoever in the management of civil protest and they must be called to order by the federal government.
“We also view the midnight arrest of one of the organisers of the protests, Mr. Omoyele Sowore as an affront on his fundamental rights as well as our collective rights to freedom of expression and association as enshrined in all the international and national instruments that strengthens democracy.
“His continued detention by the State Security Service lacks any justification as his actions were not in any way threats to the sovereignty of Nigeria nor the democratically constituted government of Nigeria.
“He was just one out of several Nigerians demanding for good governance being the minimum demand citizens can make from a government they democratically elected. Mr. Sowore and other protesters were not carrying arms against the state and we therefore demand their immediate release unconditionally,” the statement said.