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Rights Groups Issue Ultimatum for Nigerian Reporter's Release

FILE - Nigerian activist and former presidential candidate Omoyele Sowore appears at the federal high court in Abuja, Nigeria, Dec. 5, 2019.
FILE - Nigerian activist and former presidential candidate Omoyele Sowore appears at the federal high court in Abuja, Nigeria, Dec. 5, 2019.

Rights groups are pressing the Nigerian government to release a news publisher and former presidential candidate who was re-arrested last week, just one day after being freed from months of detention.

Omoyele Sowore, who as a minor candidate challenged President Muhammadu Buhari in February elections, was first arrested in August and pleaded not guilty to charges of treason, money laundering and harassing the president.

Founder of Sahara Reporters, a New York news outlet that covers corruption in the oil-rich West African nation, Sowore was granted bail in October but remained in detention until last week because security agents said he had not met the bail conditions.

Sowore was released Thursday following a court order, but was re-arrested by state security officials on Friday. He was seen screaming and shouting as he was dragged out of court.

On Monday, a group of rights organizations, including Amnesty International, called in a statement for "the unconditional release of Sowore per his bail terms" within 14 days and an investigation into his re-arrest.

They also called for protests at the National Human Rights Commission's offices nationwide if their demands are not met within 14 days.

According to Reuters, a Buhari spokesperson declined comment, while a spokesperson for the Department of State Services (DSS), the security agency holding Sowore in custody, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Buhari spokesperson Garba Shehu has been quoted as saying that the DSS doesn't require presidential approval to conduct its affairs, which he described as legal.

The Nigerian Bar Association on Sunday called Sowore's re-arrest a "disgraceful and crass violation" of the court.

Calls for protest

Sowore's supporters have been calling for nationwide protests against misrule in Nigeria, describing charges against Sowore and his fellow pro-democracy advocates, Olawale Bakare and Agba Jalingo, a politically motivated effort to stifle dissent.

U.S. senators Bob Menendez and Corey Booker of New Jersey, where Sowore's family is based, have both expressed outrage over Sowore's detention.

"A Nigerian court has twice ordered his release on bail, and the state's security agencies openly defied the court order each time, leading me to conclude that either Nigeria no longer respects the rule of law or President Buhari is woefully out of touch with what his agents are doing in his name," Menendez said Monday.

Booker called Sowore's re-arrest "a shocking affront to the country’s rule of law," adding that "Nigeria must cease its dangerous attacks on freedom of expression."

Some information in this report is from Reuters.

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