Stories of modern torture: Justine Ijeomah

‘People will admit to anything just to be relieved of the pain. These confessions extracted under torture then form the basis of a court trial against the torture victim. Sometimes convictions result in death sentences.’
Justine Ijeomah, founder of the Nigerian human rights organisation HURSDEF (Human Rights Social Development and Environmental Foundation)

Justine Ijeomah‘Mr Human Rights – that’s what the authorities in my home city Port Harcourt in Nigeria call me, because of my work to defend death row prisoners and other detainees who face torture at the hands of the security forces.

‘Staff and volunteers at our organisation, HURSDEF, visit police stations and detention centres where people are at risk of serious human rights violations in custody.

‘We have documented many cases of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and horrible stories of torture. ‘Many police stations have what they call a ‘torture chamber’ and ‘O/C Torture’ – officer in charge of torture.

They bring detainees – often the poor and street children – to the ‘Temple’, another name for the torture chamber.’

Left in a pool of blood

‘They suspend people from the ceiling or handcuff and fold them over, and torture them for hours – they beat them with the flat edge of a machete blade, use pliers to pull their fingernails or use wire cutters on them, shoot the victims in their feet, blindfold them and carry out mock executions, pour tear-gas in their eyes, and beat them with the barrels and the butts of guns.

‘In one recent case, a young man fainted after hours of being beaten with a machete and a metal rod. The torture chamber floor pooled up with blood.

‘When the officers revived him the following morning he was forced to eat his own blood caked in the sand on the floor.’

Forced to confess

‘Many torture victims are held for months without being charged with a crime, and it is routine for the police to use torture to extract confessions.

‘People will admit to anything just to be relieved of the pain. These confessions extracted under torture then form the basis of a court trial against the torture victim. Sometimes convictions result in death sentences.

‘And we, as human rights activists, are not immune to attack ourselves. We receive death threats, are arrested often and I have also suffered torture.

‘In May 2010 I was defending a child suspect when I was arrested by the police. I was taken from the cell and kept behind the counter where a police officer repeatedly banged my head against a concrete wall. I was hospitalised with serious head injuries and still suffer from migraines as a result.’

Time to stop torture in Nigeria

‘We want to see torture criminalised in Nigeria. It is already unconstitutional, and we must work collectively to ensure it is no longer an intrinsic part of law enforcement in our country.

‘We remain hopeful. The authorities do pay attention when we speak out about individual cases – I’ve seen the impact of naming and shaming perpetrators during my weekly radio programme Know Your Rights. Often we get a response or see action taken just hours later.

‘Torture is inhuman let’s collectively stop it!’

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