Defending civic space: 9 #EndSARS protestors finally released in Rivers State

Family members of some of the detainees at a press conference after their release. The detainees did not attend for fear of re-arrest/harassment to attend.

Under our Defend civic space project, a coalition of civil society worked to secure the detained protestors access to family and lawyers after months of being denied both. The 9 #EndSARS protestors from Rivers State were held, without an offer of bail, between 21 October 2020 and 17 February 2021.

All 9 #ENDSARS protestors judged innocent

The judge quickly ascertained the innocence of all 9 detainees, adding to the sense of injustice from months of avoidable detention—with the accompanying psychological, physical, and emotional impacts. Nigeria must remember that all people are to be treated as innocent until proven guilty in a fair trial. That means that suspects should be treated respectfully, and have their rights protected. In this case suspects had their rights to bail arbitrarily denied, right to a trial, right not to be held on indefinite detention, and right to representation all denied.

Proper investigation and respect for the rights of citizens

SDN and the coalition appreciate the Judiciary in Rivers State and the State Police Command for eventually responding to their calls to respect the rule of law, which resulted in the release of these 9 protestors. This highlights the importance of Rivers State, and its security agencies, allowing for proper investigation and respecting the right of citizens.

A testimony on the state of a Rivers State prison conditions

“I’m an apprentice, throughout the period I was in the prison I stopped learning and making the small money I make on a daily basis—being in the prison affected my income… The hardest thing for me inside the prison was eating the food and drinking the water they give to us, the water is not clean, the food is not nutritious, the air we breathe inside the prison is polluted… we also had to battle with insets such as bedbugs, mosquitos etc.  I found it difficult to sleep because of the heat inside the prison room—we were eight of us sleeping in a small room. I missed my work, my siblings, my parents and my friends, I missed being free to move around whenever I want. I missed seeing the beautiful buildings in Port Harcourt, it gives me joy.”

One of the 9 #EndSARS detainees, after release.

No one should be held in these conditions, irrespective of the crime they have been accused or convicted of. Prison should be a place of support to reform individuals and prepare them better to secure a livelihood alternative to crime on release. In the case of the 9 #ENDSARS detainees, they endured these “inhumane” conditions without even being charged of a crime—and subsequently judged innocent. One detainee had to be hospitalised after release.  It is unacceptable that any human is treated in this way, and urgent reform with civil society input is needed.

What next?

In the course of the coalition’s advocacy they learned that many more citizens labelled as ‘suspects’ are still in detention, often without charge, and in inhumane conditions which will have potentially long-term health and economic impacts on their lives.

  • We particularly appeal for the Rivers State Police Command, the Judiciary and State government to work transparently with civil society, immediately offer bail, and expedite a fair trial for remaining ‘suspects’ so those found to also be innocent are released without further delay.
  • Federal and state government agencies and correctional facilities must incorporate human rights practices and standards into their operating policies and programmes. This may begin to restore public trust in local police and politicians, which has been eroded over years, and expressed through the #EndSARS protests.

See our press release

Published: 02.03.2021

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