Africa

Leader of banned Nigerian Muslim group to be freed

A Nigerian court has allowed the leader of a banned pro-Iranian Shia Muslim group to seek medical leave in India after more than three years in custody.

Supporters of Ibrahim Zakzaky have been protesting on the streets of the capital, Abuja, for months calling for his release.

Sheikh Zakzaky, 66, has been charged with culpable homicide and other offences, all of which he denies.

His supporters say he has suffered two minor strokes and is losing his sight.

The court also ordered a delegation to accompany Sheikh Zakzaky to India to ensure he returns for trial after getting treatment.

The Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), which was founded four decades ago by Sheikh Zakzaky, welcomed the court’s decision as “a victory for truth and justice against tyranny and impunity”.

It accused the Nigerian authorities of inflicting “brutal wounds” on Sheikh Zakzaky and his wife Malama Zeenat Ibrahim, who have been in police custody since 2015.

The group was banned in July after months of protests which saw violent clashes between protesters and the security forces – including one outside the federal parliament building. Several people have been killed in the protests, including a senior police officer and a journalist.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said the group had been “taken over by extremists who didn’t believe in peaceful protests and instead employed violence”.

Human rights groups have condemned the police’s violent response to the protests.

Sheikh Zakzaky was among hundreds of people arrested in 2015 after security forces stormed the group’s headquarters and killed about 350 people.

The army said at the time that it was protecting its chief of staff and his convoy who it says were attacked by IMN supporters.

Born in 1953 in Kaduna State, northern Nigeria, Sheikh Zakzaky founded IMN in his youth and is largely credited for the growth of Shiaism in Nigeria.

The country’s Shia Muslim community was virtually non-existent 30 years ago but is now estimated to be somewhere between 5 per cent to 17 per cent of Nigeria’s 100 million people.

Sheikh Zakzaky converted to Shiaism about four decades ago after visiting Iran. He was heavily influenced by the Iranian revolution in 1979 which saw Ayatollah Khomeini take power from the US-backed Shah.

The Iranian revolution encouraged him to believe that an Islamic revival was also possible in Nigeria. –BBC

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