By Henry Ojelu
Last week, Amnesty International declared human rights defenders Omoyele Sowore, Olawale Bakare and Agba Jalingo prisoners of conscience, following their ongoing arbitrary detention and unfair trials solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
In a statement on the fate of the three defendants, amnesty said the Nigerian authorities at both federal and state levels have repeatedly targeted human rights defenders, activists and journalists by stifling dissenting voices and pass repressive legislation to restrict the civic space.
The term “Prisoners of Conscience,” refers to anyone imprisoned because of their race, sexual orientation, religion, or political views. It also refers to those who have been imprisoned and/or persecuted for the non-violent expression of their conscientiously held beliefs. By officially designating the trio as Prisoners of Conscience, Amnesty International joins the league of many international organizations that have officially denounced Nigerian government’s plethora of violation of human right through unjust detention of people who hold contrary views.
It is also an acknowledgment that international rights organizations identify with the plight of Sowore, Bakare and Jalingo and would join forces with local civil society organizations in demanding for their unconditional release. Already, the 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.
Other local organizations have also mounted pressure on government to release Sowore and Bakare who are still being detained by the DSS despite a court order granting them bail.