THE Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has written to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, ACHPR, urging the African Union’s quasi-judicial body to put pressure on the Nigerian government to release Omoyele Sowore, detained Sahara Reporters publisher.
The letter, dated November 22, was addressed to the Commission’s chairperson, Soyata Maiya, and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare.
Diego Garcia-Sayan, UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, was copied.
The civil society group asked the Commission to urgently intervene by pressurising the government to “immediately end the intimidation and harassment of detained journalist and activist Omoyele Sowore and Olawale Bakare, their sureties and lawyers, particularly Femi Falana, SAN, simply for defending their clients’ rights.”
It also urged the body to demand that the government’s agencies take measures to protect the sureties and lawyers, immediately release Sowore and Bakare as ordered by the Federal High Court, and investigate allegations of harassment of detained activities, as well as their sureties and lawyers.
“Nigeria’s State Security Service (SSS) has stated that it would not release the activists until it is allowed to vet sureties that have already been verified by the court, implicitly harassing the sureties apparently with the aim of pushing them to disown the detained activists. Similarly, a group of apparently sponsored ‘protesters’ calling themselves ‘Save Nigeria Movement’ asked Femi Falana to ‘stop intimidating security agencies’,” SERAP said.
“The harassment of detained activists for demanding strict compliance with court orders, and then their sureties as well as lawyers who come to their defence, shows a steady slide away from the rule of law and underscores the urgent need for the Commission to insist on the restoration of respect for human rights in Nigeria.
“The harassment is emblematic of a broader pattern of official threats to and harassment of Nigerian civil society. We are concerned that rather than releasing Sowore and Bakare as ordered by the court, the Nigerian authorities are now implicitly intimidating the activists, sureties, and lawyers, particularly Femi Falana.
“Apparently sponsored attacks, harassment and intimidation of sureties and lawyers for doing their independent duties undermine and erode the integrity of the legal profession, access to justice, Nigerians’ confidence in the courts, and make a mockery of the entire justice system.”
The non-profit also condemned a demonstration that held in Abuja on Friday where protesters asked Falana to stop harassing the SSS, describing them as “apparently sponsored”.
“The intimidation and harassment of Sowore and Bakare’s legal team is intended to, and will most likely lead to, other lawyers being unwilling to defend anyone facing politically motivated and high-profile prosecutions,” SERAP said.
“Sureties and lawyers are essential to ensure the effective operation of the justice system, and the rule of law; they need to be protected not harassed and intimidated. Lawyers ought to have the freedom to carry out their legal work and should never have to suffer any intimidation and harassment for discharging their professional duties.”
The group noted that the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders gives everyone the right to peacefully oppose rights violations, and the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers likewise requires governments to ensure lawyers are able to perform their professional functions without intimidation and hindrance.
“Nigeria’s State Security Service (SSS) has continued to refuse to release Omoyele Sowore and Olawale Bakare despite court orders,” it added.
“The SSS has stated that it would not release the activists until it is allowed to vet sureties that have already been verified by the court, implicitly harassing and intimidating the sureties and by extension, the detainees and their lawyers, particularly Femi Falana, apparently with the aim of pushing the sureties to disown the detained activists, and Mr Falana to withdraw from the suit. However, under Nigerian law, the SSS does not have any power to vet sureties.”