Nigerian army troops have attacked a peaceful protest rally demanding the immediate release of the country’s senior Muslim figure Sheikh Ibrahim al-Zakzaky, who has been held in detention along with his wife for more than three years.
According to a report by the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), hundreds of the followers of the jailed leader staged a rally in front of the National Assembly in the capital, Abuja, on Tuesday, the last in a series of daily rallies for the same cause, but the army soldiers brutally attacked the demonstrators.
There were no immediate reports of the exact number of casualties and arrests, but photos uploaded on the official website of the IMN showed that several wounded protesters were being assisted away by fellow protesters.
Other reports said that police fired tear gas canisters toward the protesters and reportedly began firing live shots to disperse the crowd.
The state new channel NTA claimed that a group of protesters with the IMN, which is led by Sheikh Zakzaky, tried to enter the parliament, adding that the security had closed all the doors of the complex beforehand.
Zakzaky, now 66, has been in detention since December 2015 after his residence in the city of Zaria was raided by Nigeria’s forces, during which he was beaten and lost vision in his left eye.
During the brutal crackdown, three of his sons lost their lives, his wife sustained serious wounds, and more than 300 of his followers were killed.
Zakzaky was charged in April 2018 with murder, culpable homicide, unlawful assembly, disruption of public peace, and other accusations. He has pleaded not guilty, vehemently rejecting all accusations brought up against him.
Recent reports said that his health has been deteriorating, but prison authorities have prevented him from access to needed treatment.
On Sunday, his son, Mohammad, said after visiting him that he had been shocked by his father’s worsening medical condition, stressing that he needed to be immediately hospitalized as “large and dangerous quantities of lead and cadmium have been found in his blood.”
Mohammad said Nigerian authorities had not taken any action so far and that they intended to murder his father.
On Friday, the UK-based Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) announced that it had received reports that Zakzaky’s health condition had further worsened.
The IHRC — which had sent a medical team to Nigeria in April to examine the health condition of Sheikh Zakzaky and his wife — has said the specialist treatment they require can only be fully accessed outside the African country.
Separately, members of the IMN also said last week that the cleric had been poisoned in prison and required urgent medical care abroad.
On Thursday, the IMN said in a statement that the group’s leaders would hold Nigerian President Buhari Muhammadu responsible “if anything should happen to Zakzaky or his wife in detention.”
In 2016, Nigeria’s federal high court ordered Zakzaky’s unconditional release from jail following a trial, but the government has so far refused to set him free.