Thursday, 13 January 2011

Humanist campaigner Leo Igwe arrested in southern Nigeria

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We have reported previously on the work of humanist campaigner Leo Igwe, and the problems he has encountered with the authorities in Nigeria. We have just heard from his brother, Uche Igwe, that Leo has been arrested in southern Nigeria, where he is currently campaigning against the persecution of alleged child "witches":
"Leo Igwe, Humanist leader and representative of International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) in Africa has been arrested by the police in Akwa Ibom State. The information reaching us is sketchy but someone has confirmed that Leo and his colleague Ernest Asuquo are currently being held at the anti-kidnapping unit at the Police Area command in Uyo. He is in communicado and has not been allowed to speak to any member of his family or his lawyers. Leo Igwe and his colleagues have been working on the campaign against child with witches in Akwa Ibom State. He has led a statewide campaign and has freed many children who were accused to be witches. A few days ago he freed a child who fled persecution because of the accusation that she was a witch by her family.

We are outraged and we urge the Akwa Ibom State government to immediately and unconditionally release these activists (Leo and Earnest) who are helping to advance the rights of abandoned children and who are fighting relentlessly for the abolition of the inhuman act of killing innocent citizens in the name of belief."
It's not clear exactly why Leo has been arrested, but it is thought that it is related to his campaigning in Akwa Ibom State – in a message reposted on the Think Humanist forum, BHA trustee Josh Kutchinsky reports that Leo had been due to give evidence before the Akwa-Ibom State Commission of Inquiry into Witchcraft Accusations and Child Rights Abuses tomorrow, adding that:
"The issue here has been Leo and others defending human rights in relation to accusations of witchcraft. A conference organised by Leo had been disrupted and Leo had been attacked and physically assaulted. The situation is complex. Others, it is now being claimed, are being hounded by the Governor of the State of Akwa Ibom for the embarrassment that such human rights activities is causing him."
We'll pass on any more news as and when we receive it - meanwhile, Think Humanism is probably a good place to look for information.

Update: We have now learned that Leo Igwe has been released. Gary Foxcroft of the charity Stepping Stones Nigeria writes, "I have just spoken with Leo. He has been released without charge. He got a bit of a beating in custody but is in good spirits. ... The judge has been of great help."
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