Nigeria has become the first country during the COVID-19 pandemic to pass a death sentence via the video calling app, Zoom. A Nigerian driver’s sentencing to death has been regarded as “inherently cruel and inhumane” by the Human Rights Watch.
The sentence was issued via the app because of the social distancing measures put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Olalekan Hameed was sentenced to death by hanging for the murder of his employer’s mother by Lagos judge Mojisola Dada. The hearing which lasted about three hours had the attorney general and other lawyers in attendance.
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All court proceedings have been suspended except for pressing cases. The sentence was meted out on the first day of the easing of lockdown restrictions in Lagos. Most people can now return to work, but are required to wear face masks.
The judge, who passed the sentence joined the meeting from the Lagos High Court in Ikeja while Hameed joined in from Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison with the other lawyers linking up from their various locations, BBC reported.
It is not certain if Hameed will appeal his sentence, but he pleaded not guilty to killing 76-year-old Jolasun Okunsanya in December 2018.
“The sentence of this court upon you, Olalekan Hameed, is that you be hanged by the neck until you be pronounced dead and may the Lord have mercy upon your soul. This is the virtual judgment of the court,” Justice Dada is quoted as saying.
Amnesty International says there are still over 2,000 people on death row and the last three executions were carried out in 2016. “This spike in death sentences puts Nigeria at odds with the global trend towards abolition of the death penalty,” Osai Ojigho, Director, Amnesty International Nigeria, told AFP.
“As of today, many more countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. Nigeria must not be different,” he said.
Human Rights Watch also lauded the court’s decision to still proceed with virtual court sessions, which shows their commitment to accessing justice during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, they are not pleased with the sentence. “The irreversible punishment is archaic, inherently cruel and inhuman, it should be abolished,” Human Rights Watch said.
President Buhari has urged all trial cases to be heard swiftly and for the prison and detention centers to be decongested to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.