AI report on death penalty in Nigeria
The 720-plus men and 11 women “waiting for the hangman” in Nigeria’s prisons have one thing in common, beyond not knowing when they will be put to death. They are poor. From their first contact with the police, through the trial process, to seeking pardon, those with the fewest resources are at a serious disadvantage in Nigeria’s criminal justice system. And some will pay with their life.
Some death row prisoners were arrested when they went to a police station because they knew a suspect or had witnessed a crime. Many said the police rounded them up and then demanded money for their release. Sometimes police asked for money for fuel, without which they could not go and see witnesses or check alibis. Overstretched and under-resourced, the police rely heavily on confessions rather than investigations. And in many cases they use torture to force suspects to sign these statements.
More than half of all the death row prisoners in Nigeria were sentenced to death on the basis of a confessional statement. Some tried to challenge the statement in court, but the trial judge refused to believe them when they said they had been tortured and insisted that the statement should stand. Some death row prisoners had no lawyer at all – others said that their lawyer either did not argue their case, or was silenced by the trial judge. Often, lawyers were not allowed to see documents vital to the case until the trial started. About 80 death row prisoners were convicted by Robbery and Firearms Tribunals with no right of appeal to a higher court. These trials fell far short of international standards of fair trial.
Many other problems beset Nigeria’s justice system, with devastating effects for those accused of capital crimes. The system is riddled with delays — trials can take more than 10 years to conclude. Appeals in some cases have been pending for 14, 17 and even 24 years. At least 130 prisoners have been on death row for longer than 10 years; some have been there for more than 24 years. Tragically, some prisoners on death row cannot have their appeals heard because the case files have been lost. […]
International law prohibits the use of the death penalty for crimes committed by people under the age of 18, yet at least 40 death row prisoners were juveniles at the time of their alleged offence.
At least seven death row prisoners have been sentenced to death by stoning. At least two of them were reportedly convicted for rape and one for sodomy. […]
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