TEHRAN (Press Shia) – The detained leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky, has made his first public appearance in two years after police arrested dozens of members of the group during protests calling for his release this week.

Sheikh Zakzaky has been imprisoned at an unknown location without charge since December 2015 after his followers clashed with the army in the northern city of Zaria.

A judicial inquiry the following year said 347 IMN members were killed by the military and buried in mass graves.

The violent repression of IMN and detention of Zakzaky, despite a court ruling that he could not be held without charge and should be released, drew accusations of human rights abuses by President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

In a brief exchange in the capital Abuja, Zakzaky told reporters that authorities had allowed him to see his doctor for treatment of an unspecified condition.

“For the first time at least the security (officers) have allowed me to see my own doctors,” he said, according to footage of the exchange. “I am getting better,” according to Reuters. 

This week, Nigerian social media had been awash with rumors that Zakzaky had died. From Monday to Wednesday, IMN members protested in the capital, with police arresting 52 people without specifying charges.

In 2016, Nigeria’s northern state of Kaduna declared IMN unlawful on security grounds, angering its adherents as anyone convicted of being a member could be imprisoned for up to seven years.

The ban triggered a wave of attacks on IMN members, worsening sectarian rivalries in northern Nigeria, where the army is also fighting Boko Haram Takfiri militants who have killed tens of thousands and caused a humanitarian crisis.

Nigeria, with a population of 190 million, combines a predominantly Christian south and mainly Sunni Muslim north. Shiites are estimated at less than 4 million, although there are no official figures. Human Rights Watch estimates that IMN has around 3 million members.