The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has petitioned Mrs Soyata Maiga, Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the continuous intimidation and harassment of detained journalist and activists, Omoyele Sowore and Olawale Bakare, their sureties and lawyers, particularly Femi Falana, SAN “for defending their clients’ rights.”
Nigeria’s State Security Service (SSS), according to SERAP, has said 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’ had asked Femi Falana to ‘stop intimidating security agencies.’
In the petition dated 22 November 2019 and signed by SERAP deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said: “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.”
SERAP also said: “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.”
The letter, which was also copied to Mr. Diego García-Sayán, UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, added: “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.”
“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.
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“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,” the statement noted.