Nigeria is illegally holding hundreds of people suspected of taking part in violence orchestrated by a radical Islamist sect, a rights group warned today, adding that they were being kept in inhumane conditions and denied access to lawyers.
Amnesty International claims most of the prisoners are held without charge and suggests some have been summarily executed by security forces. Some of the captives told Amnesty they were shackled for days and forced to sit in their own excrement in overcrowded cells while watching other prisoners get beaten and forced into confessions.
In its report, Amnesty said that the Nigerian government and the Islamist extremist sect, known as Boko Haram, were probably guilty of crimes against humanity for their role in the guerrilla conflict that has engulfed the nation’s Muslim north. “There is a vicious cycle of violence currently taking place in Nigeria,” the report says. “The Nigerian people are trapped in the middle.”
Despite their denials, the security forces have a long history of abuse and extrajudicial killings. Colonel Mohammed Yerima, a military spokesman, admitted that soldiers hold prisoners – but only so that they can do a “thorough job” investigating their backgrounds. He said prisoners had falsely reported neighbours as Boko Haram members because of petty disputes.
“We don’t torture people. We interrogate them and find out if they are members of the Boko Haram,” Colonel Yerima said. “We don’t have any concentration camp. All we have is offices where we work.”
The Nigerian government and Boko Haram, which has been blamed for more than 720 killings this year, both face increasing international condemnation.