The Nigerian Police’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) has officially released female activist and writer Maryam Awaisu hours after she was arrested in her office in Kaduna, over an awareness campaign against sexual harassment in the northern part of the country.
Backstory: Amnesty International while confirming Awaisu’s release with a tweet today, also stated that her arrest and detention were clear examples of moves made to silence women activists and victims of sexual abuse in Nigeria.
Maryam Awaisu @Ice131Queen has been released in #Nigeria. Though she is free now, her arrest & detention was aimed at intimidating #ArewaMeToo women rights activists pursuing justice for victims of sexual violence.
— Amnesty International (@amnesty) February 20, 2019
The #ArewaMeToo Movement: While the Nigerian Police Force has refused to detail the motive behind her arrest, Awaisu, who describes herself as a staunch feminist, had played a significant role in highlighting issues surrounding various acts of sexual misconducts and abuse in the north under the hashtag #ArewaMeToo.
Starting over the weekend, Awaisu was vocal in sharing stories of several women, some underage, who had been taken advantage of and abused by men in the northern part of Nigeria.
However, for reasons yet to be revealed by the Police Force and its SARS department, Awaisu was arrested and taken to the force’s office where she was detained and questioned overnight.
Amnesty International’s Intervention: Lending a voice to the agitation for her release, Amnesty International helped mount pressure on the Police Force to desist from the intimidation.
Osai Ojigho, Director Amnesty International Nigeria, in his statement said, “Authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Maryam Aiwasu, who has done nothing more than speaking up for women’s rights. Her arrest appears to be an attempt to intimidate and harass both her and other women supporting #ArewaMeToo – a movement seeking justice for victims of sexual violence in Nigeria.”
“While arresting Maryam, the Police attempted to gain access to her laptop and mobile phone by force; this is clearly an effort to access the sensitive evidence she and other human rights defenders have been gathering to seek justice for victims of sexual violence”, the statement read.
“It is unacceptable that women working on behalf of these victims are subjected to such arrest and intimidation, and we fear that these actions may prevent victims of sexual violence from pursuing justice.”
Bottom Line: It is disappointing that SARS has extended its jurisdiction to arresting social activists without probable cause or criminal ties rather than seeing them as allies in the fight to rid our society of these crimes against women.