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UN Panel Declares Sowore ‘Not Guilty’

The United Nations Working Group has accorded Omoleye Swore, the human right activist’s detention as arbitrary and illegal in line with the international law.

The body has appealed to the Nigerian government to end the illegal prosecution of Sowore over attempts of peaceful protest in August of 2019.

This was disclosed in a statement by the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention under the United Nation Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR).

Sowore was arrested on August 3, 2019 in Lagos by the Department of State Services. He was later transferred to the agency’s headquarters in Abuja and detained for 144 days.

The UN Working Group asserted that Sowore’s detention was arbitrary from the start with no definite charges against him as opposed to the DSS accusations which were just seen as exercise of freedom and not the supposed threat to national security and terrorist act. Following this, the group said,

‘On August 6, 2019, the Department of State Services sought an ex parte order from the Federal High Court in Abuja to detain Mr. Sowore for an additional 90 days, to conduct investigations, without formally charging him. On August 8, 2019, the court granted the request to extend his detention, under section 27 (1) of the Terrorism Prevention Act, 2013, but permitting the Department to detain Mr. Sowore for 45 more days.’

‘The request was granted under an overly vague provision of the anti-terrorism law from 2013. The court refused to hear the motion to quash the 45-day detention order until September 21, 2019, the day the detention order expired.’

‘Mr. Sowore was detained for a total of 48 days without formal charges filed against him. On September 20, 2019, seven criminal charges were brought against him, including the crime of cyberstalking and for allegedly insulting the President of Nigeria online. Others were treasonable felonies and money laundering. To date, no evidence of any wrong doing for those extremely serious charges has been produced by the authorities.’

The UN panel notes that the authorities rely solely on Mr. Sowore’s lawful public statements and free exercise of his right to freedom of expression.

The Working Group therefore demanded the Nigerian Government meet the following proceedings:

‘Take the steps necessary to remedy the situation of Mr. Sowore without delay and to bring it into conformity with the relevant international norms, including those set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.’

‘Taking into account all the circumstances of the case, the appropriate remedy would be to unconditionally release Mr. Sowore immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law.’

In the current context of the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, and the threat that it poses in places of detention, the Working Group calls upon the government to take urgent action to ensure the immediate, unconditional release of Mr Sowore.

‘The Working Group further requests the government to disseminate the present opinion through all available means and as widely as possible,’ the statement noted.

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