On 18 November 2012, human rights defender Mr. Justine Ijeomah was forced to go into hiding, , two days after he was physically assaulted and received death threats as a result of his investigation into the arrest of a member of his organisation.
Justine Ijeomah is a Nigerian human rights defender and Chairman of the Human Rights, Social Development and Environmental Foundation (HURSDEF) , which is working to promote human rights and social justice in the Niger Delta region.
Justine’s fellow human rights defender Mr. Maduka Nnajiofor was arrested in mysterious circumstances on 16 November 2012. Accompanied by his colleague Samuel Robinson he rushed to the police station to discover the reasons behind Maduka’s detention.
Upon arrival at the station the two men were told to wait in the canteen. Shortly afterwards Maduka was released without charge and joined his two colleagues. It was when they attempted to find out why his friend had been detained that the threats and beatings began.
Instead of responding to their queries the officer in charge of the Anti-Kidnapping unit, Mr. Jovinus Iwuh lashed out at Justine saying that he was stupid to ask why the human rights defender had been arrested, before angrily commenting, “Don’t the police have the right to arrest and detain anyone at will?”. This officer in charge began to physically intimidate Justin Ijeomah by grabbing his left ear and pulling it while threatening him: “Do you hear me, I can eliminate you and nothing will happen.”
When Justine tried to protest against such a violent threat several other police officers began to assault him. It was a prolonged attack with Justine being beaten and slapped and reportedly slammed against the station’s gate four consecutive times.
Samuel Robinson also faced assault merely for asking why Justine was receiving such treatment. As the attack continued one of the officers uttered a series of menacing threats. This officer bragged that he would “shoot Justine and nothing will happen.” and that he was going to follow the men and shoot them any day he meets them.
The justification for these threats? The same officer apparently complained that the human rights defenders were bringing too many issues to the station.
Justine Ijeomah was left in such a bad state after this assault that he had to seek medical attention. At the local hospital, he was advised to see an ear specialist for an accurate assessment of the damage to his ear.
This is not the first abuse of authority at SOS police station brought to our attention by HURSDEF. A similar incident took place on 3 September 2012, HURSDEF’s lawyer, Barrister Anselm Lawson Kpokpo, was assaulted by one officer at the station who repeatedly hit him with a rifle. An ad hoc petition issued by HURSDEF following the incident has thus far not been acted upon.
Front Line Defenders is concerned for the physical and psychological integrity and security of human rights defender Justine Ijeomah, especially in the light of reports that he has received death threats, and the assault on him by the SOS police officers. Front Line Defenders believes that Justine Ijeomah has been targeted specifically because of his legitimate work in defence of human rights, in particular his work on behalf of the victims of arbitrary arrest in Rivers State