December 23, 2019 / 2:38 PM / a month ago

Pro-government group attacks rally demanding release of 'illegally' held Nigerians

ABUJA (Reuters) - Pro-government activists in Nigeria on Monday attacked civil society protesters who were demanding the release of people they say are illegally detained, a Reuters witness said.

Policemen detain one of the suspected attackers of human rights activist Deji Adeyanju during a freedom rally in Abuja, Nigeria December 23, 2019. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

About 60 attackers descended on the group of around 40 protesters outside the government’s National Human Rights Commission in the capital Abuja, sending them running for safety.

The protesters were planning to deliver a list of demands to the Commission, including the release of prisoners such as activist Omoyele Sowore, founder of the Sahara Reporters online news organisation.

The attackers targeted a protest leader, Deji Adeyanju, chasing him before beating him. Police did not immediately intervene when the attack began and a spokesman did not respond to calls and text messages.

Adeyanju, a human rights activist who was imprisoned for more than two months this year, was taken to hospital for treatment.

A spokesman for the National Human Rights Commission also called on the government to respect court rulings.

“The position of the Commission has always been, and still is, that all law enforcement agencies, government and even individuals should act within the law, obey the rules of law at all times,” director of information Lambert Opara said.

A spokesman for President Muhammadu Buhari declined to comment.

Isa Sanusi, a spokesman for Amnesty International, which helped organised the protests, said the incident showed that Nigerians “no longer have the right to come out and express themselves peacefully without being attacked”.

A government supporter, Ibrahim Kabiru Dala, said: “We are here to commend the government of President Muhammadu Buhari and the security personnel ... we will not allow any other foreign mercenaries or opposition to come and sabotage the government.”

Reporting By Afolabi Sotunde in Abuja; Additional reporting by Angela Ukomadu in Lagos and Camillus Eboh and Felix Onuah in Abuja; Editing by Giles Elgood

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