ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – Ivory Coast security officials are torturing dozens of detainees by administering electric shocks and other forms of abuse, Amnesty International alleged Friday.
The victims include people charged with endangering state security in the wake of a recent spate of attacks targeting military installations. Since early August, unknown gunmen have carried out roughly 10 attacks at checkpoints, military bases and other installations throughout the country, including in the commercial capital of Abidjan.
United Nations officials have said that more than 200 people have been detained on suspicion of involvement in the attacks, and that torture has been documented at multiple detention facilities.
Gaetan Mootoo, West Africa researcher for Amnesty, said an investigation team received reports of a range of abuses during a recent month-long visit.
"We were able to meet dozens of detainees who told us how they have been tortured by electricity or had molten plastic poured on their bodies," Mootoo said. "Two of them have been sexually abused. Some have been held for many months denied contact with their families and access to lawyers."
Army spokesman Cherif Moussa denied the torture allegations Friday. "Our camps are not concentration camps," he said.
However, he acknowledged the possibility that individual soldiers may occasionally "go beyond what they are allowed to do" when dealing with inmates.
He added that the government tried to ensure that inmates' rights were respected. "We want to prove that we are not abusing people's rights," he said. "We're working for the state's security. We're working for the people's security."
Earlier this month, the Associated Press interviewed former detainees at a military camp in the southwestern port town of San Pedro who described widespread beatings as well as the use of electric shocks. A guard at the camp corroborated most of the claims, though camp commanders denied them.
In its statement Friday, Amnesty described how one detainee, a police officer, had died as a result of the torture he endured at the San Pedro camp.
"Serge Herve Kribie was arrested in San Pedro on August 21 by the national army and interrogated about recent attacks," Amnesty said. "He was stripped naked, tied to a pole, had water poured on his body, and was then subjected to electric shocks. He died a few hours later."
Amnesty said that some detainees were only released after ransoms were paid. One detainee told the rights group: "My parents first paid 50,000 CFA (a little under US $100) and then after my release, my jailers went at my house and demanded a higher sum. I told them that I couldn't pay such an amount and they agreed to receive 20,000 CFA more (about US$40)."
The government has blamed the attacks on allies of former President Laurent Gbagbo, who was arrested in April 2011. Gbagbo's refusal to cede office after losing the November 2010 election to now-President Alassane Ouattara sparked six months of violence in which at least 3,000 were killed.
Amnesty researchers also met with some of the more than 100 Gbagbo allies - including his wife, Simone - who are being detained on charges stemming from the post-election violence.
"Some of them told us that despite the fact that they have been held since April 2011, they only saw an investigating judge twice for less than a few hours," Mootoo said.
Despite widespread evidence that forces loyal to Ouattara also committed atrocities during the violence, none have been arrested or credibly investigated, sparking allegations of victor's justice.
Also Friday, in Amsterdam, judges at the International Criminal Court rejected a request for release by former president Gbagbo, who is being detained on suspicion of crimes against humanity.