Nigeria: Access to lawyers a right for all detainees

Amnesty International today wrote to the Nigerian government calling on them to provide Henry Okah and Edward Atatah immediate access to lawyers and their families.

Henry Okah, presumed spokesperson of MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) and his colleague have been held in incommunicado detention in an undisclosed location since their extradition from Angola on 14 February, despite an order by the Abuja High Court on 22 February calling for the two men to have access to lawyers and their families.

They have not been charged with a recognizable criminal offense.

“These two men are at risk of being tortured or ill-treated and should be seen by a lawyer and their families immediately,” said Erwin van der Borght, Director of Amnesty International’s Africa Programme. “They should either be charged or released from detention.”

MEND has claimed that Henry Okah was killed while in detention, but a presidential spokesman says that he is alive.

Background information MEND is one of the largest militant groups in the Niger Delta fighting for the rights of indigenous people for a share of the natural resources in the delta and against the degradation of the environment created by the extractive companies operating in the delta.

In February 2008, MEND declared a “total war” against oil companies and their employees, including foreign workers. MEND has been responsible for attacks on pipelines, kidnappings and killings in the Niger Delta.