Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and 47 other civil society organisations from around the globe have filed an urgent appeal to the United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) Special Mechanisms calling for their intervention in the arbitrary arrest and continued detention of Mr. Omoyele Sowore.
Omoyele, a human rights activist and pro-democracy campaigner is the founder and publisher of Sahara Reporters, an online news medium based in New York City which reports on corruption, human rights abuses and other political misconduct in Nigeria.
He was arrested on August 3, 2019, following his call for a peaceful protest using the hashtag #RevolutionNow to demand that the Nigerian government ends corruption and economic inequality and guarantee education to all.
Omoyele was initially denied access to his lawyers and he is yet to be arraigned before any court
Although no charges have been filed against him, the DSS on August 8, obtained a Federal High Court order to detain him for 45 days without pressing any charges.
In a ruling the Federal High Court in Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja permitted the Department of State Services (DSS) to hold the political activist and publisher Omoyele Sowore in custody for 45 days, without to enable the agency to conduct investigations under the 2013 Terrorism Act.
The 48 organisations which filed the Urgent Appeal argued that omoyele’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.
Represented by Ms Nani Jansen Reventlow from the London-based internationally renowned law firm, Doughty Street Chambers, the organisations 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 Omoyele and to declare his arrest and continued detention a gross violation of his human rights.
La Keisha Landrum Pierre, COO of Sahara Reporters said “The arrest and detention of Sahara Reporter’s founder, Omoyele Sowore, is without doubt a threat to press freedom and investigative journalism in Nigeria. 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.”
Some of the other CSOs in which petitioned the UN and AU Mechanisms include ARTICLE 19 Senegal/West Africa, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Open Society Justice Initiative, Edo State Civil Society Organisation (EDOSCO), Enough is Enough (EiE) Nigeria, and Media Legal Defence Initiative among others.