Amnesty International on Wednesday categorised three Nigerians as prisoners of conscience, slamming their continued incarceration as politically motivated and demanding their immediate release.
Omoyele Sowore, Olawale Bakare and Agba Jalingo, journalists and rights activists, have been facing charges of treason and money laundering since August. Messrs Sowore and Bakare remained locked up despite a federal court order for their release.
Mr Jalingo, an activist and community newspaper publisher in Nigeria’s southern Cross River State, has been repeatedly handcuffed from prison to court and denied bail on grounds that civic groups said were unjustifiable.
“We consider Sowore, Jalingo and Bakare to be prisoners of conscience detained solely for exercising their human rights,” Seun Bakare, programmes director at Amnesty International Nigeria office, said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “The Nigerian authorities must drop all charges against them and release them immediately and unconditionally.”
Mr Sowore was arrested on August 2 in Lagos by the State Security Service, a domestic intelligence agency with a history of repression. He was moved to the agency’s headquarters in Abuja where he has remained locked up despite a federal court order for his immediate release earlier this month.
The SSS accused Mr Sowore of spearheading the #RevolutionNow campaign, a series of planned protests to demand a better Nigeria. The secret police said Mr Sowore was plotting to overthrow President Muhammadu Buhari after running unsuccessfully for president in February, even though it failed to produce any evidence to substantiate its claim before the public.
Mr Bakare was charged alongside Mr Sowore before the same court, and also secured a federal court release for his release.
Still, the SSS, which is under the control of Mr Buhari, has disregarded the court order, and even publicly made a mockery of the judge’s warrant by imposing its own conditions which it said must be met before the order could be complied with.
Mr Jalingo had been facing charges separately before a federal judge in Calabar. He was accused of leading #RevolutionNow movement in Calabar as an associate of Mr Sowore. Additional charges said he falsely accused Governor Ben Ayade of mismanaging N500 million ($1.3 million).
But rights activists have continued to see the detention of the activists as politically motivated and the refusal of the SSS to submit itself to judicial authority as a throwback to Nigeria’s dark days when citizens lived under military dictatorships.
Attempts to get the SSS to comply with the court order which Messrs Sowore and Bakare secured after posting what many deemed as stringent bail conditions were rebuffed with violence from the agency’s operatives last week.
Amnesty International, as well as Nigerian professionals from elite institutions, was part of the call to free Nigerians being detained on controversial grounds. It took the advocacy another step further on Wednesday.
“Sowore, Jalingo and Bakare’s continued detention is a matter of shame for Nigeria,” the rights group said. “Their cases show just how far the authorities in Nigeria can go to silence their critics.”
“The government of President Muhammadu Buhari needs to stop filing bogus and politically motivated charges against critics, and start listening to what they have to say.
“The flawed charges and sham trials of Sowore, Jalingo and Bakare expose the inadequacies and bizarre manipulation of the Nigerian criminal justice system and an unacceptable contempt for the rule of law and human rights,” Amnesty said.
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