Nigerians have staged fresh protest rallies across the country to call for the immediate release of jailed Shia cleric and leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky.
On Thursday, demonstrators took to the streets in several cities, including Zaria, Kano, Kaduna, Yola, in large numbers to protest against the recent killings of Shia Muslims by the Nigerian army and the continued detention of IMN leader and members.
The protesters denounced the imprisonment of Zakzaky and a number of his supporters as a violation of the Nigerian constitution.
Abdulhamid Bello, a spokesperson of the Youth Wing of the IMN, which organized the protest, said the movement’s supporters would continue to hold peaceful protests in pursuit of their demands.
On December 12 last year, Nigerian soldiers attacked Shia Muslims attending a ceremony at a religious center in Zaria, accusing them of blocking the convoy of the army’s chief of staff and attempting to assassinate him. The Shias have categorically denied the allegations.
The following day, Nigerian forces also raided Zakzaky’s home and arrested him after reportedly killing those attempting to protect him. The cleric himself was injured in the attack and was taken into custody along with dozens of his supporters.
The two attacks led to the deaths of hundreds of members of the religious community, including three of Zakzaky’s sons. The Shia cleric is said to have been charged with “criminal conspiracy and inciting public disturbances.”
Bello further slammed the judicial inquiry commission set up by the authorities in Kaduna State for hindering the IMN access to the detained members of the movement.
“It is, therefore, clear that there is a laid out plan to prevent the legal team of the movement from having access to its leader, its spokesperson and the custodian of its properties,” he said.
In a similar move on February 29, several people poured onto streets in the capital Abuja, demanding the immediate release of Zakzaky.
The IMN has called for Zakzaky’s unconditional release and for Abuja to respond to the “unjustifiable atrocities committed by the army.”
On December 16, 2015, the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) said there was credible evidence of mass graves in Nigeria following the deadly attack on Shias.
The rights group said the Nigerian military had secretly buried hundreds of bodies in the graves after storming the house of the Shia cleric.
Human rights organizations have called for a full investigation into the deadly attacks by Nigerian forces against Shia Muslims.
Amnesty senior research adviser Lucy Freeman has recently described the Nigerian army’s human rights violations as “shocking.”