New Jersey man, a renowned journalist, held in his native Nigeria for nearly 3 months

Omoyele Sowore planned a peaceful protest tagged #RevolutionNow against Nigeria's government for Aug. 5, but he was arrested two days before the rallies occurred, advocates said.
Omoyele Sowore arrives at the Federal High Court in Abuja, Nigeria, on Sept. 30, 2019.
Omoyele Sowore arrives at the Federal High Court in Abuja, Nigeria, on Sept. 30, 2019.Afolabi Sotunde / Reuters file

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By Phil McCausland

Omoyele Sowore, an activist journalist who lives in New Jersey, has been detained by his native country of Nigeria for nearly three months, prompting calls by international journalists' and human rights groups for his release.

Sowore, founder of an online investigative news site called Sahara Reporters, is a graduate of the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs and a world-renowned journalist, according to English PEN, the founding center of PEN International, a worldwide writers’ association.

He was arrested in early August after he called for a revolution following a February election which he said was not credible, Reuters reported. He ran for president in that election, in which former military ruler President Muhammadu Buhari secured a second term in office.

The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization on Oct. 31 submitted a petition to a United Nations working group on behalf of Sowore, saying he has "been arbitrarily detained" and that Nigerian authorities have levied baseless charges against him for organizing the #RevolutionNow protest movement that aims to oppose "the rampant government corruption that still plagues the country."

The organization said Sowore's Sahara Reporters has been referred to as the Wikileaks of Africa.

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Sowore continues to face seven charges that include treason, money laundering and cyberstalking, according to Reuters. The latter charge is for allegedly sharing information that insulted and incited hate against the Nigerian president.

His wife, Opeyemi Sowore, and Nani Jansen Reventlow, an attorney, said in an interview with DemocracyNow! that Omoyele Sowore had only spoken to his wife and children twice since he was arrested in August.

"He’s definitely putting up a brave front, but it’s hard staying in isolation for that long," Opeyemi Sowore said in the interview. "And having monitored calls with your family limits what he’s able to say or how freely he’s able to express himself."

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat who represents the New Jersey district where Sowore lives, told NJ.com he is looking into the matter.

“We’re in touch with the State Department on this matter and we’re speaking with the family regularly,” Gottheimer said in a statement.

Rep. Karen Bass, a California Democrat and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also spoke out on his detainment.

"I stand with the human rights and international community in declaring that the continued detainment of Mr. Omoyele Sowore is a flagrant violation of his human rights," Bass said in a statement. "The right to peaceful protest is a fundamental human right guaranteed under both Nigerian and international law."

Sowore's small New Jersey community of Haworth is also pushing for his release.

Residents and town leaders gathered earlier this week to bring attention to his arrest and push for his release.

“We want the federal government paying attention,” Haworth Councilwoman Heather Wasser told NJ.com. “We want the United Nations paying attention. We want him out of Nigeria safely.”