Amnesty International has accused the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a unit of the Nigeria Police Force, of torturing suspects and demanding bribes to free them.
In a report published on its website on Wednesday, the group alleged that officers attached to SARS were getting rich from lucrative bribes.
The report alleged that detainees were subjected to “horrific torture methods, including hanging, starvation, beatings, shootings and mock executions, at the hands of corrupt SARS officers.
AI said it received reports from lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists and collected testimonies stating that some police officers in SARS regularly demand bribes, steal and extort money from criminal suspects and their families.
Amnesty International’s Nigeria researcher, Damian Ugwu, said, “A police unit created to protect the people has instead become a danger to society, torturing its victims with complete impunity while fomenting a toxic climate of fear and corruption.
“Our research has uncovered a pattern of ruthless human rights violations where victims are arrested and tortured until they either make a ‘confession’ or pay officers a bribe to be released.”
He added, “SARS officers are getting rich through their brutality. In Nigeria, it seems that torture is a lucrative business.”
The group said it found 130 detainees living in overcrowded cells at a SARS detention in Abuja known as the ‘Abattoir’.
A 32-year-old man, Chidi Oluchi, told Amnesty he was tortured after being arrested by SARS officers in Enugu.
“They started beating me with the side of their machetes and heavy sticks. My mouth was bleeding and my vision became blurred,” he was quoted as saying in the report, adding that he was released after paying SARS officers N25,500 ($80).
AI also recorded the case of a 25-year-old fuel attendant in Onitsha, Anambra State, who was arrested by SARS after his employer had accused him of being responsible for a burglary at their business premises.
The attendant told Amnesty International, “The policemen asked me to sign a plain sheet. When I signed it, they told me I have signed my death warrant. They left me hanging on a suspended iron rod. My body ceased to function. I lost consciousness. When I was about to die they took me down and poured water on me to revive me.”
Like many people detained by SARS, he was not allowed access to a lawyer, a doctor or his family during his two-week detention.
Yet in various cases where victims of police torture or other ill-treatment attempted to seek justice, the authorities took no action.
Amnesty said that a senior officer explained that around 40 officers accused of manhandling detainees had been transferred to other stations in April 2016, although he did not say whether the claims against them had been investigated.
“It is time for the authorities to ensure that officers responsible for such human rights violations are finally held accountable,” said Amnesty’s Nigeria researcher, Damian Ugwu.
“There is also an urgent need for robust legislation that ensures all acts of torture are offences under Nigeria’s criminal law.”
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