Nigeria: Pardoned torture victim ‘overwhelmed’ by campaign to spare his life

A Nigerian torture victim wrongfully sentenced to death for a crime committed when he was 16 years old has been pardoned following intensive campaigning from Amnesty International supporters across the world.

Moses Akatugba, who was on death row following his conviction for stealing three mobile phones 10 years ago and was repeatedly tortured into signing a confession, said he felt “overwhelmed” after the outgoing Governor of Nigeria’s Delta State announced last night he had granted him a full pardon.

“The pardon of Moses Akatugba, who should not have been sentenced to death in the first place because he was a minor at the time of the offence, is a victory for justice and a reminder that people power and human rights campaigning really can make a difference,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Africa Director. 

Amnesty International members and activists are my heroes. I want to assure them that this great effort they have shown to me will not be in vain. I promise to be a human rights activist – to fight for others.

Moses Akatugba

“Without the thousands of letters sent in support of Moses by his supporters across the globe, he may never have been granted his freedom.” 

Moses is one of the core cases of Amnesty International Stop Torture Global Campaign and was highlighted in the 2014 Write for Rights campaign. In total, more than 800,000 actions were taken worldwide asking the Delta State Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan to commute the death sentence.

In a statement following Governor Uduaghan’s announcement, Moses said: “I am overwhelmed. I thank Amnesty International and their activists for the great support that made me a conqueror in this situation.

“Amnesty International members and activists are my heroes. I want to assure them that this great effort they have shown to me will not be in vain, by the special grace of God I will live up to their expectation. I promise to be a human rights activist – to fight for others.”

Moses also thanked the human rights defender Justine Ijeomah, who leads the Nigerian NGO Human Rights Social Development and Environmental Foundation (HURSDEF), and Governor Uduaghan for “keeping to his word”. 

In October 2014, Governor Uduaghan responded to pressure from Amnesty International supporters and said that he was looking into the case. He granted a pardon to Moses yesterday on his penultimate day in office. 

Arrested and tortured as a boy

Moses Akatugba was 16 years old when he was arrested in 2005 for armed robbery. He says police officers beat him repeatedly with machetes and batons. 

He told Amnesty International that they tied him and hung him up for several hours, and then used pliers to pull out his toenails and fingernails. He was then forced to sign two pre-written “confessions”. 

“Moses was just a boy when he was arrested and subjected to torture. And under international human rights law, he should not have been sentenced to death as he was a child at the time of the crime,” said Netsanet Belay. 

“Nigerian Governors should commute the death sentences of all death row prisoners in their respective states, including many who are at imminent risk of execution after similarly flawed criminal investigations.” 

Before leaving office today, Governor Uduaghan also commuted the death sentences of three other prisoners. 

As Nigeria’s new president, Muhammadu Buhari, takes office, Amnesty International is calling on him to immediately establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty. 

Approximately 1,500 people are currently languishing on death row in Nigeria, including juvenile offenders. In 2013, Nigeria resumed executions when four people were hanged despite a “voluntary” moratorium.

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