Press Shia Agency – Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Nigeria to end its heavy-handed crackdown on a mainstream Shia group led by Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky and release the prominent cleric from prison.

Press Shia Agency – In a statement published on Wednesday, the New York-based rights organization said Nigeria should abide by a recent court ruling that ordered the unconditional freedom of Zakzaky, the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), and his wife Zeenat.


“The Nigerian authorities should hold accountable anyone who has committed crimes against Islamic Movement members, and take immediate steps to comply with a federal court order mandating the release of… Zakzaky and his wife,” the statement read.


On December 12, 2015, Nigerian soldiers attacked Shia Muslims attending a ceremony at a religious center in the city of Zaria in the state of Kaduna, accusing them of blocking the convoy of the army’s chief of staff and attempting to assassinate him.


The following day, Nigerian forces also raided Zakzaky’s home and arrested the clergyman and his wife after reportedly killing those attempting to protect them.


A judicial commission of inquiry found that the Nigerian army had used “excessive force” during the December 2015 raids and was responsible for the deaths and mass burial of 347 members of the religious community, HRW added.


“The involvement of soldiers in the Zaria incidents, and subsequent police actions against the Islamic Movement raises major questions about Nigeria’s commitment to military reform,” said Mausi Segun, Nigeria researcher at HRW, adding, “The Kaduna state government’s continued repression of the group without holding the attackers responsible turns justice on its head.”


Back in October, the Kaduna state government banned the IMN, triggering a wave of police violence against the group’s members participating in religious processions as well as the destruction of their properties.


Earlier this month, a federal high court ruled that the detention of Zakzaky and his wife without trial “amounted to a gross violation of the constitution and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.”


The court further ordered the Nigerian government to release the couple within 45 days, pay them about $165,000 in damages, and provide them with a secure residence.