FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – 7th July 2009
Campaign of Terror unleashed on Nigeria’s ‘Witch Children’
Coalition of civil society organisations and churches condemn the recent violence against children and local NGO staff members
A coalition of Nigerian and International civil society organisations and churches have strongly condemned the recent campaign of terror that has been inflicted upon the so-called ‘child witches’ at the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network Centre (CRARN) in Eket, Akwa Ibom State by Lagos-based police officers. The work of CRARN, and the children they care for, was shown on Channel 4’s Dispatches Programme on ‘Saving Africa’s Witch Children’ in November 2008.
On Friday 3rd July 2009, in the afternoon local time, a group of men appeared at the CRARN Centre claiming to be donors who wanted to donate goods and toys to the children. Shortly after, the men identified themselves as police officers, and unlawfully arrested two CRARN staff members and mercilessly beat many of the children whilst searching for CRARN’s Founder and President, Sam Itauma. Two young girls aged 11 and 12 years old were beaten unconscious and are currently receiving treatment in a local hospital. Five other children suffered injuries at the hands of these men, who then left a round of bullets in Sam Itauma’s bedroom, presumably to act as a warning that his life is in danger.
Gary Foxcroft, Programme Director of the UK-based NGO Stepping Stones Nigeria, and partner of CRARN, said: “We condemn the actions of the police in the strongest possible terms and call for the Akwa Ibom State Government to ensure the safety of all CRARN staff and children. The beatings of these innocent children further highlight the depravity of these so-called men and women of God who label and abuse children as witches. However, we will not be intimidated in our fight to protect the rights of vulnerable children and ensure that children are no longer labeled as witches. We know that the truth is on our side”.
Stepping Stones Nigeria believe that this campaign of terror is a direct response to Channel 4’s Dispatches Programme, ‘Saving Africa’s Witch Children’, which highlighted the role that Mrs Helen Ukpabio, self-proclaimed pastor, evangelist and founder of the Liberty Gospel Foundation Church in Nigeria, and her film production company, Liberty Films, have played in spreading the myth of child witchcraft.
Helen Ukpabio has recently filed legal complaints against Sam Itauma and CRARN at the Special Fraud Unit at the Ikoyi station in Lagos for “fraudulent activities and threat to life”, charges which the coalition argues are clearly fabricated in order to threaten and intimidate. The police officers that carried out these brutal attacks were accompanied by Mr Victor Ukott, the Lagos based lawyer who is representing Helen Ukpabio. Staff at CRARN, Stepping Stones Nigeria and Stepping Stones Nigeria Child Empowerment Foundation have also recently received numerous threatening phone calls, which would appear to be linked to this campaign of terror. CRARN staff have also been threatened by persons regarding the upcoming court case of “Bishop” Sunday Ulup-Aya, who was featured on Channel 4’s Dispatches programme bragging that he had killed “up to 110 witches”.
Sam Itauma, Founder and President of CRARN, said: “It is clear that forces of darkness are intent on taking my life and I remain deeply concerned for my safety and, most importantly, that of the children at the CRARN centre. I therefore plead for the Akwa Ibom State Government to offer us its full protection and ensure that its international image is not further damaged by this worrying situation”.
The coalition urgently calls on the Akwa Ibom State Government to:
• Arrest and prosecute the police officers who unlawfully arrested and detained CRARN staff members and beat and injured innocent children;
• Award their full protection to Sam Itauma, other CRARN staff members and the children to ensure their full safety now and in the future;
• Carry out in-depth investigations into the activities of Mrs Helen Ukpabio and the Liberty Gospel
Foundation Church, prosecute anyone found to be labelling children as witches and close any church found to be labelling children as ‘witches’ through deliverance or other methods.
• Support the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the false legal charges that are being levelled against Sam Itauma and CRARN staff.
Notes to Editors:
1. Coalition members include: Stepping Stones Nigeria, Stepping Stones Nigeria Child Empowerment Foundation, Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network Centre, Consortium for Street Children, Nigerian Humanist Movement , StreetInvest, Mboho Akwa Ibom Association (UK & Ireland), Ibom People’s Forum, Ibibio Nation, Eket Development Congress USA, The Covenant of Grace Ministries, International Christian Ambassadors of God (ICAG) and Grace Chapel, London.
2. Saving Africa’s Witch Children’ Dispatches Programme was aired on Channel 4 in November 2008. The documentary graphically details how the belief in witchcraft leads to the widespread abandonment, torture, trafficking and killing of children in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
The documentary has since won a prestigious BAFTA award and Amnesty International’s Media Award in the UK
3. Following the airing of the Dispatched documentary, The Akwa Ibom State enacted the Child Rights Act making it illegal to brand a child a witch. On its website the Akwa Ibom State Government states that it “will not fold its hands and watch evil elements of society dehumanise, demoralise, bastardise, displace, stigmatise, or persecute our children for personal gains.” The Government then states how it will:
• Place full legislative machinery against labelling of children as witches
• Advance high powered investigation into every element of the issues involved and all allegations against persons involved in stigmatisation of children as witches
• Prosecute all persons found culpable of this crime of child labelling
• Deploy social resources for the support, comfort and enjoyment of all categories of children all over the state
• Possibility of closure of every organisation involved in this evil stigmatisation of children
• Government will not spare any culprit involved.
For more information please go to: http://www.aksgonline.com/issue_child_abuse.aspx
4. For more information about the work of Stepping Stones Nigeria, CRARN and the issue of child witchcraft please visit www.steppingstonesnigeria.org.
5. For more information about this press release please contact Gary Foxcroft, Programme Director, Stepping Stones Nigeria on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0845 313 8391.
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – 7th July 2009