Ivory Coast: Amnesty alarmed over arbitrary detentions

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LOME, Togo 

Amnesty International on Friday called on authorities in the Ivory Coast to end the “systematic use of pre-trial detention” and release hundreds who had been arrested during elections held last year in the West African nation.

“We call on authorities in Cote d’Ivoire to put an end to the systematic use of pre-trial detention, especially, to immediately and unconditionally release those arbitrarily detained and to expedite proceedings for the other detainees in due respect of the rights of the defense,” the global human rights watchdog said in a report.

At least 300 opposition activists, demonstrators and supporters have been arrested, according to Amnesty International, though it said exact data was unavailable “as the authorities have not communicated the information.”

The organization reported excessive use of pre-trial detention, as well as violations of the right to a fair trial and the death of at least one person. It also reported that several people had been detained for months without being allowed to see their lawyers, while six were forced to admit to charges against them after being subjected to torture and ill-treatment.

At the same time, the group expressed concern about the overcrowding of the Abidjan House of Arrest and Correction (MACA), which contains 7,782 people despite its capacity of 1,500. Those on pre-trial detention are allegedly exposed to the coronavirus and unhealthy conditions, Amnesty said.

“We reiterate our call on the authorities to release more people, especially those already suffering from a medical condition, in line with the recommendations of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s regional director.

She said that pre-trial detention should be used as a “last resort.”

The authorities must also “immediately open independent, impartial and thorough investigations” into allegations of torture and threats against those in detention, added Michele Eken, West Africa researcher at Amnesty International.

Ivorian authorities and several lawyers told Amnesty International that most of those detained, including those arrested in other towns, were being held at the MACA.

Amnesty International welcomed the progress made in investigating the violence that raged between supporters of the ruling party and those of the opposition in several cities.

It noted that investigations were still ongoing and that arrests had taken place.

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