Owoyele Sowore

At least 48 rights and press freedom organisations have petitioned the United Nations and the African Union over the detention of the founder of SaharaReporters, Omoyele Sowore.

The presidential candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC) in the 2019 elections, was arrested by the Department of State Service (DSS) over his planned nationwide #RevolutionNow protest for threatening public peace and safety with the protest.

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Despite the outcry, the Federal High Court in Abuja approved an application filed by the DSS to detain him for 45 days.

The DSS also alleged that Sowore conspired with the leader of the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, to overthrow the government of President Muhammadu Buhari.

However, in an appeal filed to the UN and AU special mechanisms, the groups called for an intervention to see to the release of Sowore.

In a statement signed by Idowu Olalere, Communication Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA), one of the groups, said 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.”

Describing Sowore as a pro-democracy campaigner, Olalere said the objective of the protest was to demand that the Nigerian government end corruption and economic inequality and guarantee education to all.

In the petition prepared by Nani Jansen Reventlow from the London-based Doughty Street Chambers, the groups called on “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.”

La Keisha Landrum Pierre, chief operating officer of Sahara Reporters, a newspaper founded by Sowore, also described his arrest as a threat to press freedom.

“The arrest and detention of Sahara Reporter’s founder, Omoyele Sowore, is without doubt a threat to press freedom and investigative journalism in Nigeria,” she said.

“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, added that “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.”