The American Bar Association (ABA), a voluntary bar association of lawyers and law students, has said that the Nigerian government does not possess sufficient evidence to prosecute Sahara Reporters publisher, Omoyele Sowore.
The association has been monitoring the treason trial of Mr Sowore by the Nigerian government.
The group said this in its preliminary report on criminal proceedings against Mr Sowore.
The former presidential candidate was arrested alongside another activist, Olawale Bakare, on August 3 2019, for planning the #RevolutionNow protest.
The demonstrations were against bad governance and other issues.
They were charged with treasonable felony, fraud and insulting President Muhammadu Buhari.
The court granted the duo bail twice but the SSS refused to release them until December 5.
However, less than 24 hours after it finally obeyed the court order, the SSS rearrested the two men within the Federal High Court in Abuja, sparking national outrage.
Mr Sowore was finally released on December 24, 2019 but his movement has been restricted to Abuja as part of his bail conditions.
Justifying the action of the SSS, the presidency said Mr Sowore’s call for revolution was aimed at overthrowing the democratically elected president of Nigeria.
Several human rights activists, both in Nigeria and in diaspora, have repeatedly called on the Nigerian government to drop the charges against the journalist.
However, in a recent report by ABA, the group concluded that the prosecution never “possessed sufficient evidence on which to predicate a criminal case against Mr. Sowore.”
The group restated that calls for peaceful protest do not constitute treason and that the proceedings have violated Mr. Sowore’s right to freedom of expression, right to freedom of assembly, and “right to trial without undue delay, as well as best practices in prosecutorial ethics.”
“The AGF should withdraw the charges or, alternatively, 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,” the group urged.
Citing the basis for its conclusion, ABA explained that 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. DSS’s statement to the press in the immediate aftermath of the arrest vaguely referenced threats of disorder but did not provide specifics as to Mr. Sowore’s allegedly criminal behavior.
“Third, following Mr. Sowore’s arrest the DSS sought an ex parte order – a decision made by a judge without requiring all of the parties to the dispute to be present – of detention on the basis of 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 offenses alleged were unrelated to the anti-terrorism statute. This shift suggests that the statute was but a vehicle for the prosecution to continue detaining Mr. Sowore until it could figure out what charges to bring.”
Also, the group emphasised that eight months into the proceedings, the prosecution dropped five of the seven charges without explanation, adding that the repeated requests for adjournment and refusal to share key materials with the defense, is further indication that the state lacks evidence of anything against Mr. Sowore.
“Notably, the amended charge sheet, which contains the two remaining counts of treason and conspiracy to commit treason, does not set forth any facts to support the allegation that Mr. Sowore had sought to overthrow the government by unlawful means; it simply cites Mr. Sowore’s involvement in the #RevolutionNow demonstrations.”
“Fifth, the conduct of the trial, including the prosecution’s In light of the above, the DSS and AGF’s pursuit of the case against Mr. Sowore breaches prosecutorial ethics, which mandate that that the State drop charges once it becomes apparent that the evidence is insufficient.
“The facts detailed above likewise give rise to a reasonable basis to conclude that the case is based on Mr. Sowore’s exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” the report read.
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