Amnesty International has declared three detained Nigerian activists and journalists as prisoners of conscience.
The organisation in a statement Wednesday announced the declaration of Omoyele Sowore, Olawale Bakare and Agba Jalingo as prisoners of conscience.
Messrs Sowore and Bakare are being prosecuted for calling for a revolution against poor governance. They are being detained by the secret police, SSS, despite meeting their bail conditions.
Mr Jalingo, a journalist, is being detained in Cross River for writing an article critical of the state government.
"We consider Sowore, Jalingo and Bakare to be prisoners of conscience detained solely for exercising their human rights," Seun Bakare of Amnesty said in a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES Wednesday afternoon.
Read the full statement below.
Amnesty International has declared human rights defenders Omoyele Sowore, Olawale Bakare and Agba Jalingo prisoners of conscience, as they have faced ongoing arbitrary detention and unfair trials solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
The Nigerian authorities at both federal and state levels have repeatedly targeted human rights defenders, activists and journalists including by stifling dissenting voices and passing repressive legislation to restrict the civic space.
Omoyele Sowore, Olawale Bakare and Agba Jalingo have been in detention since August 2019 simply for expressing views critical of the government. Despite meeting the stringent bail conditions, Nigeria's State Security Service (SSS) has continued to refuse to obey a court order to release Omoyele Sowore and Olawale Bakare. Agba Jalingo's bail applications have been repeatedly and unjustifiably rejected.
"We consider Sowore, Jalingo and Bakare to be prisoners of conscience detained solely for exercising their human rights. The Nigerian authorities must drop all charges against them and release them immediately and unconditionally," said Seun Bakare, Programmes Manager, Amnesty International Nigeria.
"Sowore, Jalingo and Bakare's continued detention is a matter of shame for Nigeria. 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 authorities must stop using the security agents and judiciary as a tool for persecuting people who voice dissenting opinions, challenge abuse and call for accountability.
Omoyele Sowore and Olawale Bakare were arrested by officials of the Nigerian intelligence service after they called for a nationwide protest denouncing the socio-economic conditions in the country. They face several charges including treason, money laundering, and cyber-stalking. If convicted, they could face up to life imprisonment or the death penalty.
After meeting harsh bail conditions, on 9 November, a warrant for their release was issued by a Federal High Court judge in Abuja, yet the Nigerian authorities refused to release them.
Agba Jalingo was abducted from his home in Lagos and driven more than 766 km by road to Calabar in Cross River State after writing a series of articles critical of the Cross River State Government, his home state. He faces charges of treason and terrorism and if convicted, he could face up to life in prison or the death penalty.
"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," said Seun Bakare
Amnesty International Nigeria is also calling on the Nigerian authorities to review the Cyber Crimes Act and the Anti-Terrorism Act and bring them in conformity with international human rights standards.
In January 2019, Amnesty International launched the Freedom of Expression campaign after disturbing patterns of repressive actions by the Nigerian government including blatant violations of the right to freedom of expression and media freedom.
Journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders and activists are increasingly intimidated, harassed, sometimes physically assaulted and arbitrarily arrested by the Nigerian authorities simply for doing their job or expressing dissenting opinions.
In October 2019, the organization launched a briefing title 'Endangered Voices: Attack on Freedom of Expression in Nigeria.' The report documents that in 2019 alone, at least 19 journalists were arrested by officials of the Nigerian security forces.