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Nigerian death-row prisoners 'may be innocent'

Katy Pownall

Amnesty International called on Nigeria's government on Tuesday to declare a moratorium on capital punishment.

Amnesty International called on Nigeria’s government on Tuesday to declare a moratorium on capital punishment, saying dozens of prisoners on death row may be innocent.

The London-based rights group said more than half of the 736 inmates facing death in Africa’s biggest oil producer were convicted on the basis of written confessions that many said were extracted under torture.

At least 80 death-row inmates were sentenced by tribunals without the right to appeal, Amnesty said. Others have faced decades-long delays for appeals—up to 24 years—due to a lack of legal representation or missing case files, the group said.

In addition, at least 40 death-row inmates are juvenile offenders, who were aged 13 to 17 at the time of their alleged crimes, Amnesty said.

“It is truly horrifying to think of how many innocent people may have been executed and may still be executed,” said Aster van Kregten, Amnesty International’s Nigeria researcher.

Nigeria made an attempt to address the flaws by establishing two commissions of inquiry, which both recommended a moratorium on death sentences because the existing justice system could not guarantee a fair trial, but no action has been taken yet.

The report says Nigeria’s soaring violent crime rate puts pressure on police to make fast arrests and few politicians want to oppose death sentences publicly.

“The death penalty is used as a distraction from the real issue: addressing the underlying factors that lead to violent crime,” the report said.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation, with 140-million people. In spite of massive oil earnings, poverty is widespread and criminality and corruption are major problems.—Sapa-AP

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