NIGERIA – Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has written to Mrs Soyata Maiga, Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the commission’s members to take action against the harassment of Omoyele Sowore, Olawale Bakare, their sureties and lawyers, particularly Femi Falana, SAN.
According to SERAP, Nigeria’s Department of State Services (DSS) has stated that it would not release the activists until it is allowed to vet sureties that have already been verified by the court.
SERAP deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, who released the petition on Sunday noted that the harassment of detained activists, their sureties as well as lawyers who come to their defence, shows a steady slide away from the rule of law and underscores the urgent need for the Commission to insist on the restoration of respect for human rights in Nigeria.
“The harassment is emblematic of a broader pattern of official threats to and harassment of Nigerian civil society. We are concerned that rather than releasing Sowore and Bakare as ordered by the court, the Nigerian authorities are now implicitly intimidating the activists, sureties, and lawyers, particularly Femi Falana”, it said.
The letter copied to Mr. Diego GARCÍA-SAYÁN, UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, read in part: “Apparently sponsored attacks, harassment and intimidation of sureties and lawyers for doing their independent duties undermine and erode the integrity of the legal profession, access to justice, Nigerians’ confidence in the courts, and make a mockery of the entire justice system.
“The harassment is emblematic of a broader pattern of official threats to and harassment of Nigerian civil society. SERAP is seriously concerned that rather than releasing Sowore and Bakare as ordered by the court, the Nigerian authorities are now implicitly intimidating the activists, sureties, and lawyers.
“Sureties and lawyers are essential to ensure the effective operation of the justice system, and the rule of law; they need to be protected not harassed and intimidated. Lawyers ought to have the freedom to carry out their legal work and should never have to suffer any intimidation and harassment for discharging their professional duties.
“These actions hinder the ability of lawyers to freely carry out their professional duties and severely restrict access to justice and fair trials for the detainees, with a consequent erosion of fair administration of justice, equality of arms, and the rule of law. By targeting the detainees’ sureties and lawyers, the Nigerian authorities are implicitly harassing and denying them their right to claim justice.
“Sowore and Bakare were arrested simply for calling a national protest. Amnesty International has declared them prisoners of conscience detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Sowore, Bakare, their sureties and lawyers particularly Femi Falana continue to face hostility, intimidation and harassment.
“Under Nigerian law, the SSS does not have any power to vet sureties. Also, a group of apparently sponsored ‘protesters’ calling itself ‘Save Nigeria Movement’, asked Femi Falana to ‘stop intimidating security agencies.’ The group recently held a rally in Abuja to say ‘enough is enough’ to Femi Falana.
“SERAP condemns the use of apparently sponsored protesters to harass and intimidate Sowore and Bakare’s lawyers particularly Femi Falana. The intimidation and harassment of Sowore and Bakare’s legal team is intended to, and will most likely lead to, other lawyers being unwilling to defend anyone facing politically motivated and high-profile prosecutions.”