SERAP petitions FG over Sowore, others’ detention

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Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has requested the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to step into the matter of the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of a journalist, Omoyele Sowore, and four other activists by the federal government.

The group in a petition requested that the Federal Government withdrew charges against Sowore and the others who were peacefully exercising their human rights.

The complaint dated 4 January 2021,  signed by SERAP Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare and addressed to the Chairman/Rapporteur of the Working Group, Mr José Guevara Bermúdez said:

“The arrest continued detention and torture and ill-treatment of Sowore and four other activists solely for peacefully exercising their human rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly is a flagrant violation of the Nigerian Constitution, 1999 (as amended) and international human rights law. They are now facing bogus charges simply for exercising their human rights.”

SERAP is also urging the Working Group to “issue an opinion declaring that the deprivation of liberty and detention of Sowore and four other activists is arbitrary and in violation of Nigeria’s Constitution and obligations under international human rights law. We also urge the Working Group to call for their immediate and unconditional release.

“We urge the Working Group to request the Nigerian government to investigate and hold accountable all police officers and security agents suspected to be responsible for the unlawful arrest, continued detention, and torture and other ill-treatment of Sowore and four other activists.”

The organization urged the Working Group “to request the Nigerian government to award Sowore and four other activists adequate compensation for the violations they have suffered as a result of their unlawful arrest, arbitrary detention, torture, and other ill-treatment.”

SERAP argued saying, “detention is arbitrary when it is clearly impossible to invoke any legal basis justifying the deprivation of liberty. Article 9(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which confirms the right to liberty and freedom from arbitrary detention, guarantees that no one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.”

The group further stated: “The Human Rights Committee has interpreted this right to mean that procedures for carrying out legally authorized deprivation of liberty should also be established by law and state parties should ensure compliance with their legally prescribed procedures.

“Pursuant to the mandate of the Working Group, the ‘Manual of Operations of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council’ and the publication ‘Working with the UN Human Rights Programme, a Handbook for Civil Society’, SERAP, a non-governmental human rights organization, can provide information on a specific human rights case or situation in a particular country, or on a country’s laws and practices with human rights implications.

“SERAP, therefore, argues that the case adequately satisfies the requirements by which to submit an individual complaint to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

“SERAP is therefore seeking an opinion from the Working Group finding the continuing detention of Sowore and four other activists to be arbitrary and in violation of Nigeria’s Constitution and obligations under international law.

“Accordingly, it is hereby requested that the Working Group consider this Individual Complaint a formal request for an opinion of the Working Group pursuant to Resolution 1997/50 of the Commission on Human Rights, as reiterated by Resolutions 2000/36, 2003/31, and Human Rights Council Resolutions 6/4, 15/18, 20/16, and 24/7.”

SERAP requested the Working Group to initiate the procedure involving the investigation of individual cases toward reaching an opinion declaring the detention of Sowore and four other activists to be arbitrary and in violation of international human rights law.

The organization promised to pursue the regular communications procedure before the Working Group in order to have the ability to provide comments on any response by the Nigerian government.

On account of their arrest, SERAP said: “On the midnight of 1 January 2021, Sowore and four other activists were arrested by the officers of Nigeria Police Force, particularly men dispatched from Apo Division, Abuja, at the #CrossoverWithProtest, a planned procession across the country on New Year Eve.

“They were reportedly subjected to severe torture and other ill-treatment, and Sowore was left with bruises in his nose and all over his body in an apparently the use of excessive force by the police officers.

“Sowore and four other activists were arraigned at the Magistrate Court in Wuse Zone 2 on Monday, 4 January 2021 on three charges of criminal conspiracy, unlawful assembly, and attempting to incite others.

“Sowore denied all the charges, but the Magistrate ordered that he, alongside other activists, be remanded in Kuje Prison. He was denied access to his friends and family for days.

“The authorities have also refused to provide him with medical attention despite overt marks of torture and other ill-treatment he reportedly suffered,” the organization stated.

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