International backlash after re-arrest of Nigeria opposition figure

International backlash after re-arrest of Nigeria opposition figure
International backlash after re-arrest of Nigeria opposition figure

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - LAGOS - Rights groups and the media have reacted furiously to the re-arrest of journalist and opposition figure Omoyele Sowore by Nigeria's secret service earlier this month.

Civil society groups and newspaper editorials were scathing when the journalist was re-arrested a day after a court ordered him freed, following months of detention for having called for protests against the president.

These critics place the blame squarely on President Muhammadu Buhari, accusing the former military ruler of an "authoritarian drift" towards "dictatorship".

The outcry reflects rising fears over the increased detention of journalists and opposition figures since Buhari took office in 2015.

And dramatic smartphone footage of a brawl as what appeared to be government agents tried to seize the journalist during a courtroom hearing have only added to the mounting anxiety.

Agents of the Department for State Services (DSS) initially detained Sowore back in August, after he called for protests against misrule in Nigeria under the online banner "#RevolutionNow".

He was charged with treason and held pending trial -- and although a court ordered his release in September, the DSS kept him locked up.

He was only freed on December 5 -- along with co-defendant Olawale Bakare -- after a court again ordered his release and levied a symbolic fine against the DSS for having ignored the earlier order.

But Sowore's freedom was short lived.

A day after being freed, Sowore was back in court for the rest of his trial when armed men, some wearing hoods, forced their way into the high court in the capital Abuja.

As they wrestled him to the ground and tried to drag him away, a crowd of supporters rushed to his defense. In the ensuing chaos, the chief judge had to be evacuated by a side door.

One of Sowore's lawyers, Femi Falana, told AFP that it had been DSS agents who tried to re-arrest his client. Once they had promised to release him after questioning, he had driven Sowore to the DSS offices himself, he added.

More than a week later, he is still in custody.

In a press release, DSS spokesman Peter Afunanya blamed Sowore's supporters for the courtroom court chaos.

Sowore had participated in a meeting the day before at the Hilton Hotel in Abuja, where he had promised "to sow anarchy in the country", Afunanya added.

But nobody had told Sowore why he was being held, his lawyer, Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika, said.

"He looked his ebullient self," Olumide-Fusika told AFP after visiting his client -- even if after almost five months in solitary detention, his health was a concern. -AFP

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