Letter: New victims of Nigerian `justice'

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The Independent Online
Sir: Last year I attended the Ogoni trials as an observer on behalf of the Bar Human Rights Committee and the Law Society. Subsequently Article 19 published my detailed analyses of the flagrant injustice of the trials, the paucity of the prosecution evidence and the breathtaking dishonesty of the judgments.

I was therefore both intrigued and perturbed to read the articles you published in which Richard North ("Can you be sure of Ken Saro-Wiwa?", 8 November) and Donu Kogbara ("Ken Saro-Wiwa was never a saint", 12 November) insinuated that Saro-Wiwa was guilty.

Sir, these articles challenge two questions. First, what reliable evidence do North and Kogbara have? There was never any impartial investigation by the Nigerian authorities of the circumstances of the killings of the four Ogoni chiefs. There was never any fair or proper trial. No right of appeal was allowed.

The two men who were to have been the principal witnesses against Saro- Wiwa alleged that they and most of the other witnesses for the prosecution had been bribed to give false evidence. This was never investigated. Furthermore the continuing military occupation of Ogoniland and widespread corruption make it very difficult to be sure that anyone claiming to be a witness for either side is truthful.

Secondly, why the emphasis on Saro-Wiwa? What about the eight other defendants executed along with him? North and Kogbara make the same error that they attribute to the supporters of Saro-Wiwa. Eulogy or criticism of just one famous man is beside the point: nine people were brutally executed after an unfair trial at which no one ought to have been convicted.

Finally, both articles, in concentrating on one charismatic figure, ignore a matter of much greater current concern. There are 19 other Ogonis who have been in custody for well over a year. They face trial by the same tribunal which unjustly convicted the nine already executed, on the same charges and on the same evidence. None of them is a famous writer and environmentalist. All are in peril of their lives.

MICHAEL BIRNBAUM QC

London WC2

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