The New Jersey resident imprisoned in his home country of Nigeria since August was re-arrested in a courtroom Friday by Nigerian state police, after briefly being freed from state custody Thursday.
Omoyele Sowore, who lives in Haworth, had been scheduled to stand trial Friday on charges stemming from his Aug. 3 arrest while he was organizing a peaceful pro-democracy protest in the city of Lagos.
His family and friends had hoped he could soon return home, but the latest events cloud the picture.
His wife said Friday she was not only worried for her husband, but about her two children not being able to see their father on Christmas.
"My 10-year old has on his Christmas list one of things he wants is for his dad to be home for Christmas," said Opeyemi Sowore, speaking at an impromptu news conference at the Newark office of Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.
"Christmas is only a few days away," she said. "What do I tell him when I leave here?
Sowore was in court Friday to face various charges, including insulting President Muhammadu Buhari, treason, money laundering and cyberstalking. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
Sowore was detained in a prison in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, even though a judge had twice ordered Nigeria's Department of State Services to release him after he had met bail conditions on both occasions.
The online news agency Sahara Reporters, founded by Sowore and critical of the Nigerian government under the rule of Buhari, reported Friday that Sowore and another defendant, Olawale Bakare, were in court when officers from the Department of State Services "stormed the place and disrupted proceedings, leading to hours of standoff and tension around the place."
The news agency also reported that new charges were filed against both men, but their lawyer, Feme Falana, did not have any details on those charges.
Menendez on Friday condemned Sowore's arrest as a "blatant miscarriage of justice … symptomatic of closing political and media space in Nigeria.”
Menendez said in a statement, “I am outraged by the blatant harassment of Omoyele Sowore, an activist and journalist whose only crime appears to be exercising his right to free expression."
The new arrest came a day after the Federal High Court in Abuja ruled for a third time that the 48-year-old journalist had made bail and was to be released.
Opeyemi said in a statement earlier Friday:
“Today was a turning point in Nigeria’s history, unlike anything its democracy has ever seen. In just 24 hours, the world witnessed Nigeria’s democracy disintegrates further with a gross misuse of power and outrageous display of lawlessness.
"After the judge adjourned the court until February 11, and she reaffirmed my husband’s freedom, chaos ensued. Armed DSS operatives strangled and forcefully harmed Yele in an attempt to re-arrest him. The judge fled the courtroom for her own safety. With brutal force, the DSS operatives were successful in taking my husband again."
She said, "Sowore’s life depends on a global outcry, your advocacy and intervention.”
Menendez said his office is working with the State Department and Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard in Abuja in a concerted effort to secure Soware's release.
Menendez and Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., wrote a letter last month to the Head of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, Sylvanus Adiewere Nsofor, raising concerns about “assaulting and detaining journalists” in Nigeria and specifically cited Sowore’s case.
At the news conference, Menendez said he will continue to work toward not only Sowore's release, but also his return to the United States.
"We are here to call upon the government of Nigeria to immediately release Mr. Sowore. New Jersey is watching. The United States is watching. The world is watching,” Menendez said. "This is unacceptable in a country that calls itself a democracy.”
Ricardo Kaulessar is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: NJ journalist on trial in Nigeria freed from prison, arrested again