Africa News

Fears over crackdown on free speech as Nigeria refuses to release prominent journalist

Omoyele Sowore, is an investigative journalist and founder of the New York-based news site Sahara Reporters, who was arrested in August by the country's intelligence agency, the Department of State Services (DSS).He is charged with treason felony for organizing a Revolution Now protest, which the government said was an attempt to disrupt peace in the nation.He is also charged with cyberstalking President Muhammadu Buhari and money laundering. Sowore has pleaded not guilty to the charges. One week after meeting his bail conditions, the journalist is still being held, his lawyer Femi Falana said Wednesday.

'A full-blown dictatorship'

DSS officials said in a statement sent to CNN that Sowore was yet to be released because the appropriate persons — his sureties– had not come to pick him up and those that have shown up are not his recognized sureties.They added that Sowore's lawyer is aware of the procedures that have to be met before his release."For the avoidance of doubt, the service restates its commitment to the rule of law and particularly (with) respect to the court. It, therefore, calls for calm but states that it will not be intimidated or harassed into hasty actions," DSS said in a statement.The journalist's lawyer has denied the claims."We sent people to get him; those we sent were teargassed. He has been detained for three months, and it simply means we are back to the days of full-blown dictatorship," Falana told CNN.The journalist had previously been granted bail in September after six weeks in detention but the DSS failed to release him. Instead, Sowore was hauled back to court in October where another judge set new, more stringent, conditions for his release.

Protesters attacked

An activist told CNN that DSS operatives opened fire to disperse demonstrators and journalists covering protests calling for Sowore's freedom outside the agency's office in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, on Tuesday."They attacked us and started firing live ammunition. Two journalists were injured in the chaos, and they even smashed the phones of an activist that got the incident on tape. Instead of them releasing the journalist, they addressed us with bullets," Deji Adeyanju told CNN.DSS spokesman Peter Afunnaya denied officers fired bullets at demonstrators. He said the crowd was unruly and had tried to break into the agency's office to free the journalist.But activists have shared videos showing security operatives spraying tear gas at protesters. In one video, gunshots can be heard as people run in different directions.Rights group Amnesty International Nigeria condemned the attack on a reporter and activists during the protest.Sowore's arrest and continued detention have led to other protests and criticism against the government about press freedom in the West African nation.Demonstrations calling for Sowore's release were held in New York in September outside the UN General Assembly, while in October, residents in the New Jersey neighborhood, where his family lives, took to the streets to protest against his detention.

A climate of violence

Concerns have been raised that journalists in Nigeria are increasingly under threat in the current administration. Jonathan Rozen, Africa research associate at the Committee to Protect Journalists, wrote in April that the media watchdog had documented cases of assaults and harassment of journalists under Buhari's government.Protesters marching from the Nigerian House to the UN Plaza in New York in September, calling for release of detained journalist Omoyele Sowore. In January, Nigerian soldiers invaded the office of a local newspaper in Maiduguri, Borno state, and took away two reporters over an article the army claimed revealed classified information about its anti-terrorism operations in the country's northeast. Two other journalists, Jones Abiri and Agba Jalingo are currently facing charges related to their reporting. Abiri was previously detained by security forces for two years, without access to a lawyer or his family. Nigeria ranks 120 among 180 countries in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders. The international organization said a climate of violence has made holding the powerful accounRead More – Source