Outrage after man was sentenced to death via Zoom in Nigeria’s first ever virtual ruling


Outrage after man was sentenced to death via Zoom in Nigeria's first ever virtual ruling
Lagos State Judiciary with Ministry of Justice recorded the first virtual court session to deliver the judgment of one Olalekan Hameed who was sentenced to death by hanging. PHOTO | COURTESY

A man in Nigeria was sentenced to death via the popular video conferencing app Zoom this week, sparking condemnation from rights groups who described the ruling as inhumane.

At a virtual court hearing on Monday, Olalekan Hameed was found guilty of murdering his mother’s employer in 2018 and was sentenced to death by hanging.

A judge at a court in Lagos delivered the ruling to Hameed, who appeared remotely from prison via Zoom, along with his lawyer and prosecutors who also joined the hearing remotely, justice ministry spokesman Kayode Oyekanmi told CNN.

Hameed, who denied the charge, remains in prison, Oyekanmi said. CNN was trying to reach the suspect and his lawyer for comment.

The court held the session via Zoom to comply with the state’s social distancing guidelines to curb coronavirus.

Amnesty International Nigeria Director Osai Ojigho slammed the country’s use of the death penalty and questioned why Monday’s hearing couldn’t be delayed.

“We know many courts are exploring how they can continue cases virtually, but the challenge is how much thought has been given to the process for virtual court sittings,” Ojigho said. “In this case, could this sentencing not be delayed to another time?”

“Can we say justice was seen to be done in this case, did the public have access to this session? It’s worth exploring if the processes that led to the virtual sitting followed the principle of natural justice and a fair hearing.”

Oyekanmi declined to respond to criticism of the hearing, as did a spokeswoman for the Lagos state judiciary.

Amnesty International is calling for the the death penalty to be abolished in Nigeria, where there are nearly 3,000 people on death row, according to Ojigho.

State governors in Nigeria have to authorize executions before they’re carried out, but some have refrained from doing so in recent years, Ojigho said.

“No one wants to be held [accountable] for ending someone’s life, from the pattern we see. If the government has an internal struggle and is hesitant to sign death warrants, why don’t we take it off the books?” Ojigho said.

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