Sunday 18 March 2018

Nigeria's president urged to free ailing Shiite leader

Nigeria's president urged to free ailing Shiite leader
(AFP 11/10/17)

Nigeria's government was urged on Thursday to order the release of the leader of a pro-Iranian Shiite Muslim group who has been in custody for nearly two years since clashes with soldiers.

Ibrahim Zakzaky, who heads the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, and his wife should be freed "on health grounds", lawyer Femi Falana said in a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari.

The cleric lost the sight in his left eye during two days of unrest in the northern city of Zaria in December 2015 in which soldiers allegedly killed more than 300 IMN members.

Now he risks losing the sight in his right eye as a result of "the brutal treatment meted out to him by the armed soldiers", Falana wrote.

Zakzaky's wife, Zainab, was said to be in a "far worse" state, according to the lawyer, who said he visited the couple in secret police detention in Abuja a few days ago.

"For reasons best known to the State Security Service, some of the bullets lodged in her body during the brutal attack of December 14, 2015 have not been extracted," he wrote.

"In the circumstances, she has been subjected to excruciating pain and agony on a daily basis," he said, adding that her life was in danger unless she received urgent medical attention.

Nigeria's government has previously ignored a court order to release the couple. Hundreds of IMN were arrested during the military crackdown in Zaria.

Zakzaky has long been at loggerheads with Nigeria's secular authorities because of his repeated call for an Iranian-style Islamic revolution in Nigeria.

Northern Nigeria is predominantly Sunni Muslim.

On Sunday, at least three people were killed in the northern city of Kano when police shot at an IMN procession marking Ashura, the Shiite day of mourning.

The march, which begins in Kano and heads to Zaria, has been a regular flashpoint. Last year, the IMN claimed police had shot and killed at least 30 without provocation.

Hundreds of IMN supporters were arrested and detained during the 2015 protests and put on trial for charges including breach of the peace, unlawful assembly and rioting.

But on Thursday, 10 of them were acquitted and released after a judge at the Kaduna state high court approved a defence submission that they had no case to answer.

It was not immediately clear how many IMN members were still in custody and on trial but in February 2016, police charged 161 with illegal possession of firearms and public disturbance in connection with the clashes.

All the suspects pleaded not guilty.

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