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COVID-19: CSOs demand decongestion of Police cells, Correctional Centres

Fifty-one civil society organisations (CSOs) across the country on Friday urged the Federal Government to urgently decongest Correctional Centres and Police cells.

They accused the police of keeping suspects in custody for minor offences, contrary to the Inspector-General of Police’s instructions, following the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The IGP, they said, recently ordered that persons suspected of bailable offences such as misdemeanours, should not be detained at Police stations for safety reasons and because of the shut down of courts in several states.

The CSOs include: Amnesty International Nigeria, Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre, Foundation for Justice and Rehabilitation of Prisoners, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Legal Defence & Assistance Project and Prisoners’ Rights Advocacy Initiative, among others.

In a statement, they said: “We note, in particular, the IGP’s directives to State and Zonal commands to avoid unnecessary arrests and detention of persons in police cells except for serious (capital) offences.

“However, we note, with serious concern, that in some states, people are still held in police cells, some for bailable offences such as misdemeanours.

“For suspects held for serious offences such as capital offences, Police are not able to charge them to courts because the courts are currently shut down.

“We also note that most states have no functional testing laboratories and isolation centres, and detainees in urgent need of medical attention in those states can’t access healthcare.

“These ones are made vulnerable to more dangers than just the likely exposure to the deadly virus.”

They urged the IGP to order commissioners and Divisional Police Officers to decongest cells by immediately releasing persons still held in custody for minor offences.

The CSOs also demanded that the IGP monitor compliance with his directives against indiscriminate arrests and detentions and ensure consequences for non-compliance, to prevent re-congestion.

“We call on Chief Magistrates in states, in fulfilment of their obligations under the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, and in compliance with the 2019 Practice Direction of the Chief Justice of Nigeria on visits to police custody facilities, to embark on inspection visits to police stations within their jurisdictions with a view to ensuring the immediate release of detainees based on established criteria, to decongest the cells and prevent likely infection and spread of COVID-19.

“We also recognise the need for Magistrates to be provided with protection kits to visit these places of detention.

“We call on the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, in liaison with State Attorneys-General, to also initiate steps for audit of Police cells and correctional centres, including juvenile correctional facilities, to decongest them,” they said.

They also expressed concern about the recent riot by prisoners at the Kaduna correctional centre “which, as investigation reveals, was sparked by protests over conditions in the prison and fears by the inmates about possible exposure to Covid-19 infection.

“We are also worried about reports of brutal repression of the riots and of torture, injuries and deaths.

“If Kaduna’s prison situation is not properly handled, it could have a boomerang effect on other correctional centres.

“We call for a thorough, impartial and independent investigation into the incident and the immediate release of all persons unlawfully or unnecessarily still held in custody, in particular those held on minor offences.

“We call for the immediate provision for all detainees and prisoners, information on the spread of the virus, urgent disinfection and distribution of sanitary materials to all holding facilities, and provision and access to running water at each facility.”

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