Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Journalist in Nigeria charged with treason granted bail but still being held

A detained Nigerian journalist and former presidential candidate charged with treason has been granted bail but remains in custody, one of his lawyers told CNN on Tuesday.

Nigeria's secret police have been holding, Omoyele Sowore, founder of a New York-based news site since his arrest August 3.

He was initially detained by the Department of State Services (DSS) for calling a nationwide demonstration against President Muhammadu Buhari's government, but formal charges against Sowore, including treasonable felony, cyberstalking and money laundering, were made public only last week.

A court in Abuja ordered the journalist to be immediately released pending his arraignment, according to court documents seen by CNN.

His lawyer, Femi Falana, said the journalist is being held illegally and accused the government of bringing up trumped-up charges against him."We are saying the machinery of the state cannot be used to harass political opponents," Falana told CNN.

DSS spokesman Peter Afunnaya told CNN the case was before the court and declined to make further comment. Afunnaya said he would "get back" with more information about the journalist's whereabouts.

Sowore ran against Buhari in Nigeria's February elections and has joined campaigns decrying corruption and poor governance in previous governments in the West African nation.

"Simple elections can no longer save Nigeria or improve Nigeria's democracy," the former presidential hopeful told Arise News in July.

"Nigerians must take their destiny in their hands, and we deserve or must have a revolution in this country, particularly if we don't want war."

Sowore was detained two days before the demonstration August 5. Police fired tear gas to disperse supporters who gathered at various venues in three cities to protest.

His arrest has sparked protests and criticism of Buhari's government, which is accused of intimidating critics. The journalist's wife, Ope Sowore, who is based in the United States, led protesters Tuesday to United Nations Plaza in New York, where Buhari is attending the 74th UN General Assembly, to mount pressure for her husband's freedom.

"It is very sad to see the cause of action this has taken in the past one and a half months, especially for someone that was calling for a change for the better in Nigeria," she said.

Sowore told CNN she has been allowed only two phone conversations with her husband since his arrest last month. The journalist was supposed to be in Nigeria for two weeks in July and their two children miss their father, she said.

"It's been almost two months since he walked out the door. Children are resilient in times like this, but they miss their father and are really hoping for his safe return," Sowore said.

By Bukola Adebayo


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