Nigeria hangs 9 rights activists Military rulers ignore worldwide calls for clemency

November 11, 1995|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Nigeria acquired the status of international pariah yesterday after its military rulers hanged nine minority-rights activists in defiance of clemency appeals from the United States and many other countries.

Playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight members of his Movement for the Survival of Ogoni Peoples were hanged in Port Harcourt prison in the Nigerian capital, Lagos, about noon yesterday, according the official News Agency of Nigeria.

The executions came just two days after the nine activists were formally sentenced to death in procedures that allowed no appeals. The nine were accused of inciting disturbances against the Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch/Shell Group in Ogoniland in which four pro-government chiefs were killed.

Mr. Saro-Wiwa, who had led a campaign for self-determination for his Ogoni countrymen and to protect the environment in their homeland, said he was framed because of his activism.

The military government had rejected charges that this was a political show trial and scorned worldwide calls, including pleas from Shell, to commute the sentences.

From Washington, the United Nations and the British Commonwealth, the condemnations came swiftly. But there was no move to punish the oil-rich African nation economically by curbing oil purchases.

President Clinton expanded restrictions on visas that had been imposed against Nigeria's military leaders, high government officials and their families.

The new rules deny entry to civilians who benefit from Nigeria's refusal to allow a transition to democracy. This is similar to action taken in Haiti before democracy was restored there.

"This gives us the flexibility to look at virtually anyone to come through," a senior White House official said.

The United States also recalled Ambassador Walter Carrington for consultations. This is a sign of strong disapproval but does not mean that diplomatic relations are being cut off or downgraded.

The White House also banned U.S. military sales to Nigeria. Currently, however, there are no equipment or service contracts with Nigeria, a White House official said.

Mr. Clinton ordered U.N. Ambassador Madeleine K. Albright to seek action against Nigeria by the Security Council. The United States hopes to get a resolution condemning the executions.

This will be difficult to achieve, according to U.S. officials and U.N. diplomats, because Nigeria is now a member of the Security Council. Also, the resolution would be seen by some countries, such as China, as interference in Nigeria's internal affairs.

In the council yesterday, the United States and European Union Security Council members Italy, Germany and France deplored the executions, announced by Britain. Nigeria in turn denounced them as "meddlers."

In Auckland, New Zealand, where the 52-member British Commonwealth was meeting, South African President Nelson Mandela called for Nigeria's suspension from the body.

"It's striking that Nigeria would do this on the day that the commonwealth convenes. It was an in-your-face action," the White House official said.

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