The detention of the former Presidential Candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC), Omoyele Sowore over his call for nationwide protest is a sign of President Muhammadu Buhari’s growing intolerance to criticism, the Nigerian Researcher, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Anietie Ewang has said.
The Department of State Services (DSS) had claimed, after Sowore’s August 4 arrest that his call for nationwide protest tagged, Revolution Now was an insurrection aimed at a forceful takeover of the government.
But in a statement made available to THISDAY yesterday, Ewang said DSS’s action showed the federal government was bent on shutting down dissenting voices in the country.
He said: “If Sowore has been arrested in an attempt to stop the protests he helped to organise, that would be a damning indication of the government’s increasing intolerance for critical voices. The mere use of the word revolution as a slogan is not enough to support a claim of violent insurgency and should not be treated as a crime.
“As part of campaign for the protest, Sowore had declared August 5 as the ‘beginning of days of rage’ to protest, among other things, an alleged lack of a level playing field in the March general elections,” he said.
He mentioned also, that the Nigerian government has placed Amnesty International on a security watch for allegedly reproducing a message by the organisers of the Revolution Now protests in a tweet, adding that the reports were soon followed by protests at the organisation’s Abuja office by people demanding that the group leave Nigeria.
He said: “Amnesty International released a statement restating its commitment to human rights in Nigeria despite sponsored protests and efforts to smear the organisation. In a tweet from the Nigerian presidency’s Twitter account on August 4, the government criticized Amnesty International, claiming it was promoting tweets that called for the overthrow of the country’s constitution.
“Despite Sowore’s arrest, his supporters carried on with the planned protests on August 5. In Lagos State, officials of Operation MESA, a joint Internal Security Operational platform made up of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, surrounded the National Stadium, where the protesters planned to convene,” he narrated.
He said the right to peaceful protest was a fundamental human right guaranteed under both Nigerian and international law.
He called on the government to end the harassment and intimidation of individuals and groups that legitimately criticise government action and policies, including Amnesty International. Ewang added: “Sowore and other detained protesters should either be charged within the constitutionally guaranteed 48-hour period or released unconditionally.”