HAYWORTH, N.J. (CBSNewYork)— A New Jersey journalist who spent months jailed in Nigeria was finally released on bail on Tuesday, but the fight for his freedom is not over.
His wife and children are afraid for his safety, CBS2’s Kiran Dhillon reported.
“It’s a Christmas miracle. We’re really excited,” Opeyemi Sowore said.
Omoyele Sowore‘s wife could barely believe what she was hearing. Her husband, a journalist and human rights activist, had just been released from a Nigerian prison after being jailed for months.
The family spoke to the father of two on FaceTime on Tuesday afternoon.
“The children were elated. They were so, so happy to speak to their father for the first time in several weeks. He said thank you to everyone and was so grateful,” Opeyemi Sowore said.
Omoyele Sowore was arrested in Nigeria on Aug. 3. He’s the founder of U.S.-based Sahara Reporters, an online publication that reports on corruption in Nigeria. He was detained after calling for a nationwide protest of the president there and charged with several crimes, including treason, which he denies.
A video posted to Twitter earlier this month shows a chaotic Nigerian courtroom as Omoyele Sowore was re-arrested by authorities despite two court orders for his release on bail.
The family said that video and a letter from area lawmakers to Nigeria’s attorney general in support of Omoyele Sowore lead to the release.
“That as well as all the awareness that has come about to respect the rule of law. The freedom of expression and press. All those voices coming together is really what culminated in his release,” Opeyemi Sowore said.
The attorney general of Nigeria released a statement Tuesday defending the country’s judicial system and saying Omoyele Sowore should, “refrain from engaging in any act that is inimical to public peace and national security.”
But his family and community said the charges should be dropped.
“The release of Mr. Sowore is blessed news for the holidays. The baseless charges hanging above him should have been dismissed long ago. The only thing that matters now is getting him back safely to New Jersey to be with his family as soon as possible,” Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. said.
In his hometown of Haworth, there is a tree covered in ribbons symbolizing the community’s support for the Nigerian activist and journalist.
UPDATE: Why We Decided To Release Sowore, Dasuki –Nigeria’s Attorney-General, Malami | Sahara Reporters
Malami, whose office took over the case brought against Sowore from the Department of State Services earlier this month, on Tuesday ordered…READ MORE: https://t.co/QGgfI2PeS1 pic.twitter.com/Kwh2kOCa37
— Sahara Reporters (@SaharaReporters) December 24, 2019
There are 142 yellow ribbons, one for every day that Omoyele Sowore has been detained in Nigeria. The community said it will continue to put them up until he’s safe home in New Jersey.
“It’s a long time coming. We walk by this every day and see these ribbons and it’s good to hear, for Christmas especially,” community member Lisa Russo said.
“That’s beautiful news and we’re so excited. It’s Christmas Eve and you made my day,” David Gillies added.
But despite the great news, Omoyele Sowore’s family said they won’t rest until he’s home.
“What we’re focused on now is for him to come home safely to us and for his continued safety and security,” Opeyemi Sowore said.
Omoyele Sowore will be back in Nigerian court to face his charges in February.
New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been involved in trying to secure his release.
“The government has to intercede here and get control of its security forces. It has to ultimately make sure the dictates of the courts are observed,” Menendez said.
Menendez said he’s contacted the U.S. ambassador in Nigeria, and over the next few days will continue to engage the State Department in Washington.
The senator also called for a re-assessing of the U.S.-Nigeria relationship.
There was no immediate word on when Omoyele Sowore would be back in the United States.