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Human Rights Watch Report Condemns Torture by Nigerian Police

The Washington-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch has published a report that says torture in Nigerian prisons is widespread, and has resulted in the death of dozens of people in police custody. A spokeswoman for the Nigerian president says Nigeria has been singled out by the human rights group and is no worse than other countries.

The Human Rights Watch report, released Wednesday, recorded testimony from 50 people in seven federal states of Nigeria who say they were victims of police brutality. Some men said their genitals were subjected to electric shocks, and some women said they were raped by police to extract confessions. Other people said they were severely beaten with wooden or metal objects, or tear gas was poured into their eyes.

A researcher for Human Rights Watch, Sonya Maldar, in the Nigerian town of Lagos, said police brutality was deeply ingrained in the Nigerian police system, and was a hangover from the era of military dictatorship. Ms. Maldar says little has changed in six years of democracy.

"Since 1999, there have been efforts to reform the police," she said. "Unfortunately we, Human Rights Watch, and local organizations in Nigeria have seen little evidence to show these reforms are having an impact on the conduct and practice of police."

Ms. Maldar says the rights organization urges the inspector general of police to issue a public statement condemning the use of torture in Nigeria. She also says she wants a public awareness campaign condemning torture to be instituted across the country to try and change attitudes.

Remi Oyo, a spokeswoman for Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, criticizes Human Rights Watch, saying that torture is not widespread and the report uses testimony from unidentified people.

"The Human Rights Watch report, again, like most of its reports, [is] based on generalizations that have no bearing on the facts," she said. "The truth of the matter, as I can say to you without any fear of contradiction, is that torture or rape is not, and I repeat not, routinely practiced in Nigeria."

Ms. Oyo says the number of police has doubled since 1999, and reforms are still being carried out in the police system. She says President Obasanjo is especially committed to human rights as he was jailed under the military dictatorship of Sani Abacha.