The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project has written an open letter to Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Mrs Soyata Maiga, and the commission’s members, requesting them to urgently intervene and put pressure on the Nigerian authorities and their agents to immediately end the intimidation and harassment of detained activists Omoyele Sowore and Olawale Bakare widely known as Mandate.
In the letter, SERAP urged the ACHPR to also pressure the government to stop harassing the detainees’ sureties and lawyers, particularly Femi Falana (SAN), who are only defending their clients’ rights.
SERAP said, “Nigeria’s State Security Service has stated that it would not release the activists until it is allowed to vet sureties that have already been verified by the court, implicitly harassing the sureties apparently with the aim of pushing them to disown the detained activists.
“Similarly, a group of apparently sponsored ‘protesters’ calling themselves ‘Save Nigeria Movement’ asked Femi Falana to stop intimidating security agencies.
“The harassment of detained activists for demanding strict compliance with court orders, and then 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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”