N.J.-Based Journalist Jailed in Nigeria for Months as Amal Clooney & Others Call for His Release
A New Jersey-based journalist arrested in August remains behind bars in his native Nigeria, despite the fact that he has twice been ordered released on bail by the court.
The plight of Omoyele Sowore, 48, has continued to draw attention, most recently from the Clooney Foundation for Justice, which issued a statement demanding he be freed on bail.
“It is outrageous that Nigeria continues to imprison a journalist and Presidential candidate after a court has ordered his release. TrialWatch will continue to monitor Mr. Sowore’s trial and calls on the authorities to implement the court’s order as soon as possible,” Amal Clooney said in a statement.
Sowore, who was born in Nigeria but moved to the United States in the 1990s, is a former presidential candidate who founded the investigative online news outlet Sahara Reporters in 2006, which “shines a light on corruption, human rights abuse and political misconduct” in Nigeria.
He was arrested one day after tweeting, “All that is needed for a #Revolution is for the oppressed to choose a date they desire for liberty, not subjected to the approval of the oppressor.”
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The tweet was in reference to a peaceful protest against President Muhammadu Buhari, against whom Sowore lost the election in February, the BBC reported.
Sowore was hit with various charges following his arrest, including treason, cyberstalking and money laundering, according to the Clooney Foundation.
He was reportedly accused of threatening public order and safety, spreading false information about Buhari and “unlawfully transfer[ring] funds into a Sahara Reporters’ bank account.”
Sowore’s release on bail was ordered by a judge first in September, and once again in November, according to his website, but both times his freedom was blocked by Nigeria’s Department of State Services (DSS).
His lawyer Femi Felana told the Washington Post in early November that his client had met all of his “stringent” bail conditions, “but in utter contempt of the orders of Justice Ojukwu, the State Security Service has refused to release Sowore.”
The DSS said in a statement that while it had received the court order to release Sowore, it had not because no one had come to claim him, the BBC reported.
Additionally, a spokesperson for the DSS told Sahara Reporters that Sowore hadn’t been released because “he may be knocked down by a vehicle at the gate” — something the site called “ridiculous.”
The Post reported that Sowore has likely been in solitary confinement during his three months in prison in the Nigerian capital of Abuja.
“My husband is not the only journalist in this situation,” Sowore’s wife Opeyemi Sowore told the Post. “It’s always the same thing. They’ve taken others for speaking out against corruption. It’s a disturbing trend when journalists and others who are trying to make the country better are silenced through detention.”
Sowore and his wife live in Haworth, New Jersey with their 12-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son.
“He has missed our 10-year-old son’s birthday, his dad wasn’t there to celebrate with him. He missed our 15th year anniversary,” his wife told WCBS. “He loves to be there to take the kids for their first day of school when they go back in the fall, and he missed that as well.”
Sowore has an upcoming hearing set for Dec. 5, according to Sahara Reporters.