May 4th marked history as a Nigerian man was sentenced to death via Zoom. 35-year-old Olalekan Hameed connected via webcam from his prison at 11 a.m. The appointment concluded a process that had been ongoing since 2018 and lasted less than three hours. Hameed was sentenced to death by hanging for allegedly stealing from his boss and murdering her mother.
It was the first death sentence in the world to be passed in a digital court session. “Rest of World ” reports a process that would later cause heated debates .
According to descriptions, the process itself was calm and drowned in the media environment of the exit restrictions. What later caused anger, however, is that such an ultimate judgment was not spoken in an open process, but via video chat.
The Justice Department uploaded a recording of the trial, but citizens were unable to attend. Individual journalists were given the opportunity to observe.
Public negotiations are a valuable asset for many Nigerians. Because the country only returned to democracy two decades ago. Before that, the judiciary often consisted of closed military tribunals, which were often used to get rid of opponents.
For Hameed’s family, the verdict came very suddenly. Just a day before the trial, his older brother was told that the verdict would now be passed. He informed his imprisoned family member who was not even aware of it.
The establishment of the video chat facilities was greeted with mixed feelings. It was generally assumed that these would first be tested on simpler, civil law cases. Nevertheless, hardly anyone took any notice of the death sentence until the NGO Transparencit reported on it and demanded that in future citizens should also be able to witness the virtual trials live.
This decision sparked outarge as many did not understand why the verdict was passed without te proer channels observed and family and witnesses present for the sentencing.
Hameed’s lawyer Anthony Ezemba supports the digitization of the Nigerian judicial system, but emphasizes that human rights should not be neglected. With regard to his mandate, he believes that important instruments – such as comparisons – have been overlooked. However, the hearings in this case had already taken place before the final date, which was only used to reach a judgment.
Ezemba also points out, however, that the Nigerian constitution provides that judgements must be pronounced in a public hearing, but that even his client’s brother was refused to attend. Human Rights Watch described the zoomed death sentence as “inherently cruel and inhumane,” according to the BBC .