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World News

Persecution watchdog warns new bill in Nigeria will punish victims abducted by terror groups

by Tola Mbakwe

A Christian religious freedom charity is concerned that a new bill in Nigeria, which bans ransom payments for victims of abductions, will punish the wrong people.

The warning comes as the Nigerian Senate amends the country's Terrorism Prevention Act, making it illegal to pay ransoms to release kidnapped victims.

Open Doors said in recent years, extremist Islamic groups, including Boko Haram, radicalised Fulani herdsmen and the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), have kidnapped thousands of people in the north of Nigeria.

The charity's senior analyst on freedom of religion and belief in sub-Saharan, Illia Djadi, said: "This bill is a cruel blow to victims of abductions and their families.

"It won't stop the kidnapping. Instead, it will add to the anguish of people who are already traumatised. The legislation will leave them with no way of getting their loved ones back.

"The Nigerian government has lost its grip on security in the country and is making the victims of abductions by extremists take the hit.

"Security or the lack of it has become a huge issue in Nigeria and that's what has fuelled these attacks. They have become endemic. It's a growing and lucrative business - anybody could be the next target."

Opeyemi Bamidele, chairman of the Senate's judiciary, human rights and legal committee, told the Senate on Wednesday that making ransom payments punishable with lengthy jail sentences would "discourage the rising spate of kidnapping and abduction for ransom in Nigeria, which is fast spreading across the country".

However, the director for Open Doors' work in Africa, George Williams said that for relatives, their only option is to pay the ransoms.

"We cannot imagine the difficult position of families of those who have been held hostage," he said.

"They are put in the indescribable situation of trying everything to save their loved ones with limited resource or recourse.

"These families experience repeated trauma and are often treated like afterthoughts - we must rally around them.

"Instead, the government needs to form a channel of clear communication, informing and assisting families traumatised by abductions."

"We encourage the government to walk closely with these families to explore all appropriate options to ensure the safe recovery of their loved ones."

This year Nigeria moved up to number seven on Open Doors' World Watch List, an annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution.

According to the List, which measures different forms of persecution, Christians face the most violence in Nigeria - more than anywhere else in the world.


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