The American Bar Association’s Center for Human Right has declared the detention of human rights activist, Omoyele Sowore, illegal under international law.
The declaration comes two months after the United Nations Working Group on arbitrary detention called on the Nigerian Government to stop the unlawful prosecution of Sowore for his attempts to organise a peaceful protest in August of 2019.
ABA Center for Human Rights in a preliminary report on Thursday listed severe rights violations against the human right activist as a result of misconduct on the part of the Nigerian Government, specifically the Department of State Services and the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami.
The group said it has been monitoring the proceedings against Sowore as part of the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s Trial Watch Initiative.
Read the statement below:
“On August 2, 2019, after making a series of public statements calling for peaceful revolution, including for country-wide demonstrations on August 5 under the tagline #RevolutionNow, Mr Sowore was arrested and detained. He was subsequently charged with, among other offenses, treason, money laundering, and cyberstalking.
“The totality of the facts strongly suggests that the charges against Mr Sowore were levied in retaliation for his political activism, in violation of his rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and that the prosecution (first pursued by the DSS and then taken over by the AGF) has never possessed evidence on which to predicate allegations of criminal behaviour.
“In addition to violating Mr Sowore’s rights, the pattern of behaviour described above breaches best practices on prosecutorial ethics. Under the United Nations Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors, prosecutors in criminal proceedings must “not initiate or continue prosecution,” or should “make every effort to stay proceedings, when an impartial investigation shows the charges to be unfounded.
“Guidelines produced by the International Association of Prosecutors (IAP Guidelines), which complement the U.N. Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors, require prosecutors to proceed in criminal cases “only when a case is well-founded upon evidence reasonably believed to be reliable and admissible,” and to “not continue with a prosecution in the absence of such evidence.
“The totality of facts suggests that prosecutors never had reliable and admissible evidence that Mr Sowore had committed a criminal offence. First, Mr Sowore had explicitly stated that his calls for revolution were non-violent and had created a code of conduct forbidding violence at the August 5 #RevolutionNow demonstrations. Indeed, the protest held on August 5 was entirely peaceful.
“Second, Mr Sowore was not notified of the reasons for, or legal basis of, his arrest at the time it occurred. In the DSS’s public statement about the arrest on August 4, it vaguely referenced threats of disorder and tumult but did not specify any applicable legislation. Third, following Mr Sowore’s arrest, the DSS sought an ex parte order of detention based on an anti-terrorism statute, arguing that Mr Sowore should be detained so as to enable further investigation.
“When Mr. Sowore was charged 48 days later, the offences alleged were unrelated to the anti-terrorism statute; this shift suggests that the statute was but a vehicle for the DSS to continue detaining Mr Sowore until it could figure out what charges to bring. Forth, eight months into the proceedings (after the AGF assumed control), the prosecution dropped five of the seven charges without explanation.
“Notably, the amended charge sheet, which contains the two remaining counts of treason and conspiracy to commit treason, does not provide any facts to support the allegation that Mr Sowore had sought to overthrow the Government by unlawful means. Fifth, the conduct of the trial, including the prosecution’s repeated requests for adjournment and failure to disclose the requisite materials to the defence, indicates that the State – initially under the DSS and subsequently under the AGF – lacked sufficient evidence to proceed with the charges.
“As noted above, the dearth of proof of criminal behaviour not only indicates prosecutorial misconduct but also gives rise to a reasonable basis to conclude that Mr Sowore was arrested, detained, and prosecuted to suppress his rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
“It appears that the prosecution never possessed sufficient evidence on which to predicate a criminal case against Mr Sowore. Calls for peaceful protest do not constitute treason. The proceedings have violated – and continue to violate – Mr Sowore’s right to freedom of expression, right to freedom of assembly, and right to a trial without undue delay, as well as best practices in prosecutorial ethics. The AGF should withdraw the charges or the Federal High Court should dismiss the case. At the very least, the court should allow Mr. Sowore to return to the United States and reunite with his family pending resumption of his trial on January 25.”
Recall that Sowore was first arrested in the early hours of August 3, 2019, by the DSS operatives for calling on Nigerians to take to the streets in peaceful demonstrations on August 5 to demand a better country from the administration of President Buhari.
He was kept in unlawful detention from that period until December 5, 2019, when he was finally released on bail despite two court orders earlier sanctioning his freedom.
In a twist of events, DSS operatives invaded the Federal High Court in Abuja on December 6, 2019, to re-arrest him without any court order.
He remained in unlawful detention until 18 days later when the secret police released him for the second time.
At the resumption of his trial in a case brought against him by the Nigerian Government, the prosecution failed to prove accusations against him. It even went ahead to dropping seven of the charges earlier preferred against him.
Groups and high-ranking individuals from around the world have described the charges against Sowore as baseless and a waste of time.
The journalist remains confined to Abuja as one of his bail conditions forbids him from leaving the city or speaking with journalists until the end of his trial.