September 24, 2019 / 2:53 PM / a month ago

Nigerian court orders release of activist charged with treason

ABUJA (Reuters) - A court in Nigeria’s capital Abuja on Tuesday ordered the State Security Service to release activist and former presidential candidate Omoyele Sowore while charges of treason against him are pending.

Security agents arrested Sowore in early August after he called for a revolution. He said it was needed because an election held in February, in which President Muhammadu Buhari won a second term, was not credible.

Buhari, a former military ruler, faces criticism for his administration’s record on human rights, particularly a deadly crackdown on members of a now-banned Shi’ite group that a United Nations special rapporteur said involved the excessive use of lethal force.

In his call for a revolution, Sowore - who ran in February’s election and is the founder of the news site Sahara Reporters - listed other issues ranging from alleged corruption to ineptitude.

The government last week outlined charges against him including treason, money laundering and “cyberstalking” for allegedly sharing false information about Buhari that insulted him and incited hated against him.

Sowore has yet to be arraigned, and the judge on Tuesday rejected a request by the State Security Service to extend his detention while the charges are pending.

“The liberty of all Nigerians, high or low, poor or rich, is guaranteed by the constitution. It’s for this end that I’m of the view that the defendant ought to be released forthwith,” Justice Taiwo Taiwo said.

In the charges filed last week, the government accused Sowore of money laundering related to four transfers to a Sahara Reporters account in New York that it alleged were done to hide the “illicit origin” of the cash.

It was unclear when Sowore would be released, and once he is arraigned, he could be taken into custody again. The court ordered him to surrender all his travel documents within 48 hours, and said his lawyer should be prepared to bring him to the court at any point.

Reporting By Camillus Eboh in Abuja; Writing by Libby George; Editing by Alexis Akwagyiram and Alex Richardson

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