Nigerian police fire on protesters calling for release of jailed Shia cleric

Nigerian police fire on protesters calling for release of jailed Shia cleric
3 min read
23 July, 2019
Nigerian security forces have fired on protesters calling for the release of Shia Muslim cleric Ibrahim Zakzaky, whose health is deteriorating severely after four years in prison.
Nigerian security forces patrol during the protest by Shia Muslims [Getty]

Nigerian security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition into the air on Tuesday to disperse Shia Muslim protesters in the capital Abuja a day after at least eight people were killed in clashes during a similar demonstration.

Scattered groups of supporters of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), a Shia Muslim group, attempted to protest in the centre of the city but some 50 soldiers and police blocked access, an AFP journalist said.

Several people were injured, according to IMN member Mohamed Sodje, but the group has so far made no official statement.

Tensions are high in Abuja after clashes on Monday left at least six protesters dead, as well as a police officer and a journalist, during an IMN march demanding the release of pro-Iran cleric Ibrahim Zakzaky.

Police opened fire with live ammunition as well as tear gas, while protesters threw petrol bombs at the officers.

IMN has said Monday's death toll was higher - with 11 dead - but accused the police of removing bodies in vehicles.

Amnesty International has condemned the police action as a "reckless use of force".

Zakzaky has been detained with his wife, Zeenah Ibrahim, by the authorities since December 2015 on dubious charges including terrorism.

#FreeZakzaky: Protesters demand release of dying Muslim leader in Nigeria

President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday offered his condolences to the families of the dead police officer and journalist but did not mention the deaths of the protesters.

The IMN, which emerged as a student movement in the late 1970s, was inspired by the Islamic revolution in Iran.

The sect has encountered hostility in Nigeria, whose Muslim population is mainly Sunni.

There have been frequent clashes between the security forces and IMN supporters in recent years.

Zakzaky, who has previously called for an Iranian-style Islamic revolution in secular Nigeria, was detained with his wife, Zeena Ibrahim, after violence during a religious procession in Kaduna State, northern Nigeria in December 2015.

They were seized from their home in Zaria after violence erupted at a procession of Shia Muslims in the city.

The Nigerian military accused IMN of attempting to assassinate its chief commander.

According to Amnesty International and other rights groups, 347 mostly unarmed Shia marchers were killed by Nigerian forces at the 2015 procession, and buried in mass graves.

During a three-day crackdown, Shia Muslims were killed and burned alive in homes around Zakzaky's residence, Amnesty said.

The army initially denied the events and said a soldier was killed by armed Shia Muslims.

A Kaduna State government report later said the army had used "excessive force" and that soldiers should be punished. None have faced charges.

In December 2016, the Federal High court dismissed the government's case and ordered that Zakzaky and his wife be released.

The government refused to free them, instead mounting fresh charges in a Kaduna State court.

The IMN says Zakzaky has been denied medical attention in detention and is in urgent need of treatment.

His conditions include lead poisoning, high blood pressure, and glaucoma. The group says he has become partially blind.

As Zakzaky's health wanes, the protests have grown more intense, with some worried that his death in detention could spark insecurity.

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