Amnesty International has expressed concern over the arbitrary arrests and detention of at least 87 human rights defenders and 48 journalists in West and Central Africa.
The international human rights group disclosed this at the lunch of its report on threat to human defender at Shehu Musa Yar Adua in Abuja.
Speaking at the event, the country representative of the human rights group, Osai Ojigho, said since January 2014 Amnesty International had documented the arbitrary arrest of at least 87 human rights defenders in West and Central Africa.
She said the group has also documented the killing of 271 protesters across the regions.
Ojigho added that the number is likely to be higher. “The overwhelming majority of the killings were committed by security forces who used teargas, batons and live ammunition to disperse protesters or armored vehicles to ram their way through crowds, even when protesters were peaceful.
There is rarely, if ever, accountability for such heavy handed repression”, Ojigho said.
She explained that in 2016, 13 anti-slavery activists in Mauritania were brought before a court on trumped up charges and sentenced to between three and 15 years in prison.
In Chad, four pro-democracy activists were arrested in N’Djamena between March and April 2016 for planning to organize peaceful public demonstrations against the current President’s bid for re-election for a fifth term.
They were found guilty of incitement to an unarmed gathering and received suspended prison sentences after more than two weeks in detention”, Ojigho said.
Ojigho added that human rights defenders, journalists and protesters in West and Central Africa are facing ever-higher levels of persecution, intimidation and violence and called on states in the regions to recongnize the legitimacy of human rights defenders by respecting their work.
The country representative of the human rights group further stated that several states in the regions, including Cameron, Chad, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo, have introduced legislation which could be used to target human right defenders, journalists and whistle-blowers in reprisal for their work often in the name of countering terrorism and cybercrime.
“The combination of mass surveillance, new technology, the misuse of laws and crackdowns on peaceful protests is exposing human rights defenders to dangerously high levels of risk.
“Many states have passed legislation which restricts internet access and subjects human rights defenders to online surveillance”, She said.
The group urged the authorities in West and Central Africa to refrain from using language that disparages human rights defenders including by labeling them “criminals”, “foreign agents”, “terrorists” and “undesirable”.