The American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights has asked the federal government to drop criminal charges against Omoyele Sowore, convener of the #RevolutionNow movement.
Sowore, who was the presidential candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC) in the 2019 general election, was arrested and detained in August 2019 for planning a nationwide protest against the government.
He was subsequently arraigned for treason, but had pleaded not guilty.
The activist cum journalist was granted bail in November, but part of the conditions restricts him to Abuja.
In a preliminary report released on Thursday, the centre said the government has been unable to provide sufficient evidence against Sowore since the trial began over a year.
It also accused the government of violating Sowore’s rights, and asked that he be allowed to travel to visit his family.
“The totality of the facts strongly suggests that the charges against Mr. Sowore were levied in retaliation for his political activism, in violation of his rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and that the prosecution (first pursued by the DSS and then taken over by the AGF) has never possessed evidence on which to predicate allegations of criminal behaviour,” the report reads.
“The conduct of the trial, including the prosecution’s repeated requests for adjournment and refusal to share key materials with the defense, is further indication that the State lacks evidence of anything but Mr. Sowore’s peaceable political activism.
“In light of the above, the DSS and AGF’s pursuit of the case against Mr. Sowore breaches prosecutorial ethics, which mandate that that the State drop charges once it becomes apparent that the evidence is insufficient. The facts detailed above likewise give rise to a reasonable basis to conclude that the case is based on Mr. Sowore’s exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
“Sowore’s due process and fair trial rights have consistently been abused throughout the proceedings, breaching international and regional standards. Among other things, his pre-trial detention – at times in defiance of judicial orders to release him – was unlawful and arbitrary, and authorities denied him access to counsel while in custody.
“Given the risk that the proceedings will be prolonged indefinitely, the Center is releasing this preliminary report on the most egregious completed violations to date. Based on the violations, the AGF should drop the charges against Mr. Sowore, or the Federal High Court of Nigeria should dismiss the case. At the very least, Mr. Sowore should be permitted to return to the United States for the lengthy periods between scheduled hearings.”
Sowore’s arrest and detention had been condemned both locally and internationally.