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Human Rights Watch Calls For Release Of Prominent Nigerian Human Rights Lawyer

(New York, May 12, 1998) - Following the arrest last week of a prominent Nigerian human rights lawyer, Human Rights Watch today called for the immediate release of all those detained in Nigeria for exercising their rights to free speech and association.

Olisa Agbakoba, founding president of the Civil Liberties Organisation and convenor of the United Action for Democracy, a coalition of Nigerian pro-democracy groups, was arrested by the State Security Service at Lagos' international airport on Friday, May 8, as he was returning from Accra, Ghana. No reason has been given for the arrest.

Agbakoba has begun a hunger strike to protest the conditions of his detention which fail to meet international standards. According to the United Action for Democracy, he has been denied access to both legal representation and his family, and is being held in solitary confinement. His conditions for ending the hunger strike include being permitted visits and food parcels from his family as well as access to medication and basic toiletries. He suffers from recurrent high blood pressure.

State security agents brought Agbakoba to his home and his chambers where they searched the premises. From the chambers, the agents removed documents, including files containing information on the trial of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Nigerian human rights activists who was executed in 1995 despite international protest, and on the Civil Liberties Organisation and the United Action for Democracy. In addition, security agents apparently tampered with the telephone lines.

Agbakoba's arrest fits a pattern of harassment of human rights activists aimed at preventing them from exercising their right to free speech guaranteed under international law and the Nigerian constitution. Earlier in the week on May 4, human rights activist Olusegun Maiyegun of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) was reportedly arrested in Lagos by four plain-clothes security men. In March, police detained Agbakoba and abused him physically, beating him with a rifle butt. Two colleagues of Agbakoba, Ndubisi Obiorah and Sonny Okogie, have been "invited" to report today to the state security office.

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