ERA Expresses Concerns Over Activist's Dutch Trial
Foremost environmental rights advocacy group in Nigeria, and the country's branch of Friends of the Earth, Environmental Rights Action (ERA), has expressed concerns a Nigerian activist operating in The Netherlands might not be given a fair trial given his "heroic campaigns" against the Anglo-Dutch super oil and gas major, Shell.
ERA in an on-line statement to AkanimoReports on Monday, is therefore, asking the Dutch authorities to give detained environmental campaigner and founder of Hope for Niger-Delta Campaign (HNDC), Sunny Ofehe, a fair hearing when his case came up for hearing today, Monday.
AkanimoReports claims that their call is predicated on the manner the Dutch authorities have so far handled the matter after Ofehe’s arrest and detention for unstated reasons.
Mr. Ofehe was however, arrested by the Dutch authorities from his Rotterdam on February 22, 2011 and has been kept in detention since.
The Dutch authorities initially kept mum over the reason for Ofehe’s arrest and denied anyone access to him except his lawyer who was barred from speaking to anyone on the matter.
Earlier reports from his clients indicated that the charge against Ofehe was based on people smuggling and forgery. This was subsequently substituted with terrorism which was hinged on tapped phone calls between him and an acquaintance in Nigeria in which Ofehe was said to have tried to come to an agreement to record bunkering of oil pipelines in the Niger Delta-region.
The questioned phone calls were said to have been intercepted during a massive investigation against the activist which was said to have started more than a year before his arrest on the February 22, 2011. Subsequently, his phones and computers were allegedly tapped and a camera placed in front of his office for three weeks.
"While we believe an accused is deemed innocent until otherwise proven, it is suspicious that what Ofehe was arrested for is not what he is now standing trial for. This seems to heighten our fears that this may just be a vindictive action orchestrated by oil companies to punish the activist for his attempt at bringing them to justice over their wanton abuse of the environment in Nigeria", says Executive Director of ERA, Nnimmo Bassey.
Bassey, who is also the Chair of Friends of the Earth International (FoEI), explained that It was ironic that Ofehe’s case assumed a broader dimension after he joined several environmentalists at a hearing in the Dutch parliament to provide evidence about the degradation of the environment by the Shell and cases of human rights abuse linked to the multinational corporation. Ofehe had previously accompanied a Dutch parliamentarian on an inspection of areas devastated by Shell’s operations in the Niger Delta.
"Our position however is that the Dutch authorities respect the rights of Ofehe by allowing him a fair hearing through his counsel. The fact that he had been held incommunicado since his arrest is a violation of this right which we find absurd and unacceptable," Bassey insisted.