Update: (Dec. 9, 2019) Seven days after Blavity posted the original story, Amnesty International declared Omoyele Sowore a prisoner of conscious. On December 5, 2019, Omoyele was released and re-arrested within 24 hours. His detainment is garnering global attention with U.S. Senator Bob Menendez and Congressman Josh Gottheimer (N.J.-05) issuing a letter to the Head of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria.
"There have been a number of troubling reports about Nigerian security services assaulting and detaining journalists," the letter reads.
It goes on to cite several attacks and fatalities against journalists and peaceful protestors in Nigeria. The U.S. politicians urged the Nigerian government to "ensure the rights and liberties contained in the constitution are observed for all citizens." In addition Sen. Menendez held a press conference with Omoyele's wife, Opeyemi Sowore.
YouTube | Senator Bob Menendez
“I am truly afraid for his life and, at this point, I believe the only way to bring him home is with the help of the United States,” Opeyemi said at the press conference.
Original story: (Nov. 13, 2019) Is journalist Omoyele Sowore safe? Is he healthy? These are questions that his wife Opeyemi Sowore can't honestly answer. She told Blavity, ever since her husband's arrest in Lagos, Nigeria, on August, 3, 2019, she has not seen or spoken to him. Even more concerning, her two young children miss their father. Opeyemi shared that her 10-year-old son had nightmares about Omoyele's absence at first, and her 12-year-old daughter continues to desperately petition for her father's release, wearing a "Free Sowore" T-shirt to school. At this point, his family just wants him returned to their happy home thousands of miles from Nigeria in their northern New Jersey suburb.
On Wednesday Nov. 13, 2019 Opeyemi sent Blavity this statement concerning her husband's detainment:
"The situation in Nigeria has escalated today to a dangerous and critical place. I’m scared for my husband’s life and the lives of all journalists—and frankly anyone who speaks the truth under Buhari’s rule.
Today’s events alone highlight the flagrant violation of human rights. Blatant bribery today by the DSS to derail a peaceful protest. Guns fired at journalists. Witnesses describe a violent scene erupting at the hands of DSS armed guards and evidence of journalists being beaten and injured.
Contempt of court orders continue to deny my husband’s release. With every passing day there’s further deterioration and more alarming disregard for due process. Today marks day 102 of my husband’s illegal detention. Human lives are at risk here.
Where is the breaking point where world leaders intervene?"
Opeyemi's husband created the online news platform Sahara Reporters in 2006. Over the last 13 years, his website has broken stories that have held the Nigerian government accountable for numerous questionable acts. To some, he might be a nuisance who needs to be checked and shutdown. To others, he is a source of much-needed truth and transparency. However, to the most important people in his world, he's simply a loving husband and highly involved father whose family and community needs him.
"He's a journalist who has stood for really making Nigeria a place that works for all citizens, regardless of their socioeconomic background, regardless of their ethnicity, regardless of their religion," Opeyemi said.
It's easy for some people to leave their home countries, build a life for themselves in the U.S. and never look back, but apparently Omoyele is not one of those people. He has used his platform to expose the greed and corruption that binds progress. The outspoken activist even ran against 72 other candidates vying for Nigeria's presidential seat, earlier this year.
When he traveled to Nigeria in August, he was visiting for business, Opeyemi said. According to her, it was during this trip the government arrested her husband for treason and cyberstalking. Interestingly, Omoyele's arrest happened days before a pre-planned protest that resulted in other journalists being arrested. Also, Omoyele's website had recently published a couple of stories regarding 500 billion Nigerian nairas, equivalent to 1.39 million U.S. dollars, allegedly missing from the Central Bank of Nigeria. The bank denied those allegations.
Most countries rely on these serious types of stories to create a checks-and-balance between government and people, but we rarely acknowledge the risks that come with publishing these headlines.
"Online freedom is restricted by a 2015 cyber-crime law that is widely used to arrest and prosecute journalists and bloggers in an arbitrary manner," according to Reporters Without Borders.
🚨 This year the 2019 #RSFIndex reflects a world where verbal attacks against journalists have degenerated into violence, contributing to an increase in fear. The number of countries regarded as safe has declined. Authoritarian regimes tighten their grip. https://t.co/TnpoFDBu5W pic.twitter.com/OLpuxprhZ9— RSF in English (@RSF_en) April 18, 2019
Nigeria is ranked 120 out of 180 countries on the 2019 World Press Freedom index. Before scoffing at that number, recognize that even a world power like the United States does not fall within the top 10, when it comes to freedom of press. Sitting at 48, the U.S. press is more restricted than Botswana, South Africa, Cape Verde, Namibia and Ghana. Jamaica outranks all of the mentioned countries, at No. 8.
Additionally, the U.S. has seen its share of unfortunate deaths related to a free press. Last June, a Maryland gunman killed two writers, one editor, one community correspondent and a sales assistant from the Capital Gazette after losing a defamation claim he filed against the newspaper. Reportedly, it was the largest U.S. journalistic loss, since 9/11.
Journalists literally risk their lives to give civilians access to information that determines our well-being, but rarely do they receive recognition or justice for their sacrifice. Federal buildings don't close their offices to remember the thousands of U.S. journalists killed in the line of duty. There is no veteran's day for retired reporters.
When a journalist is deprived of freedom for giving us the information we need to maintain ours, it is our responsibility to speak out. Right now, Omoyele cannot run and play basketball with his son. He cannot Facetime with his daughter, or help his wife take care of their home. Although, Omoyele is not the only journalist currently detained in this manner and he probably won't be the last, we can do something about this. We can share his story and join his family, community and the growing list of names demanding his freedom — #FreeSowore #FreeSoworeNow
"We are praying for his safe return home," Opeyemi said. "I look at my kids and to watch them have to go through this, the biggest thing and my biggest ask for everybody speaking out is to ask for his safe return home."