Calls are intensifying for the release of Maryam Awaisu, an activist arrested by the Police over her awareness campaign against sexual harassment in the northern part of the country.
According to Amnesty International, Awaisu was arrested on Tuesday at her office in Kaduna by officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Awaisu, who described herself in her Twitter bio as a staunch feminist, has been vocal in highlighting issues on various sexual misconduct and abuses in the north under the hash tag #ArewaMeToo. The hash tag has been trending on Twitter since the weekend following a series of expose from people who claimed to have been sexually abused.
Speaking on the arrest, Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, 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.
“Maryam and the other brave human rights defenders working with the #ArewaMeToo movement must not be silenced or punished for the vital work they do. For too long, Nigeria’s women have been facing various kinds of sexual violence that seldom receives proper attention from the country’s law enforcement agencies. 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.”
Many Nigerians on Twitter have joined the calls for the release of Aiwasu. One user with the handle @theladyamy tweeted: “Instead of SARS to arrest the oppressors and abusers, they are arresting someone that is speaking up for the oppressed????!!! You can't tell me anything mehn. This country is messed up! #FreeMaryamAwaisu #ArewaMeeToo”
Another Twitter user, Ebele, @ebele also tweeted: “Naaah we refuse to be silent. Please all you Abuja big girls and boys, if your fathers or mothers know anyone who can help get @Ice131Queen out, please don’t be silent. Speak up! We can’t let these rapists get away with their abuse of power. #ArewaMeeToo #ArewaMeeToo
“If this will be your only contribution to this movement, LET IT BE. They’re trying to silence us. Maryam took a revolutionary step pioneering #ArewaMeeToo for a community whose atrocities with rape and pedophilia are through the roof. #JusticeForMaryam #FreeMaryamAwaisu
“She can’t be going down for being a VOICE. I’m angered and pained. Our force doesn’t even have regard for basic humanity of people. To be used as an oppressive tool and a means not silent victims! Gosh is this how much victims matter? #ArewaMeeToo #ArewaMeeToo”.
Yakubu Sabo, the Public Relations Officer of the Kaduna State Police Command, was yet to respond to text messages sent to his phone at the time of filing this report. He also did not answer multiple calls to the same line.