Rights groups urge release of Nigerian ex-presidential candidate

ABUJA (Reuters) - Human rights groups called on Monday for the release of a former presidential candidate facing treason charges who was re-arrested a day after being freed from detention on bail.

FILE PHOTO: Nigerian activist Omoyele Sowore (C) and his lawyers leave the Federal High Court as Department of State Security (DSS) officers attempt to re-arrest him, in Abuja, Nigeria December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde/File Photo

Omoyele Sowore, who ran against President Muhammadu Buhari in an election in February, was first arrested in August and has pleaded not guilty to charges of treason, money laundering and harassing the president.

He 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 on bail on Thursday in line with a court order but re-arrested by state security officials on Friday. He was seen screaming and shouting while being dragged out of court.

The scuffle prompted new criticism of Buhari, who was Nigeria’s military ruler from December 1983 to August 1985 and was elected president in 2015. The presidency has rejected the criticism.

A group of rights organizations, including Amnesty International, called in a statement for “the unconditional release of Omoyele Sowore per his bail terms” and an investigation into his re-arrest.

The groups urged Buhari to “show accountability as president and Commander-in-Chief and address the nation on his commitment to the rule of law and human rights”.

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

A presidency spokesman declined comment. A spokesman for the Department of State Services (DSS), the security agency, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Nigerian Bar Association said on Sunday Sowore’s re-arrest was a “disgraceful and crass violation” of the court.

But the DSS has said Sowore’s supporters want to bring the service into disrepute in an “orchestrated drama”.

Reporting by Camillus Eboh; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram, Editing by Timothy Heritage