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Nigerian police kill two Sheikh Zakzaky supporters in Abuja

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Protesters demand the release of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Ibrahim al-Zakzaky, in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, on December 14, 2020. (File photo via social media)

Police in Nigeria have shot dead at least two protesters demonstrating against the continued detention of Sheikh Ibrahim al-Zakzaky and his wife, Mallimah Zeenat, who have been held for several years on trumped-up charges.

Many protesters also sustained injuries as the Nigerian security forces attacked a popular rally of Sheikh Zakzaky’s supporters in the Maitama district of the capital, Abuja, the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) reported on Tuesday.

The massive protest rally was organized on Monday and continued into Tuesday against Sheikh Zakzaky’s arrest and trial.

The latest demonstrations erupted in response to the revelation that Zakzaky’s wife has contracted COVID-19 while in police custody.

The rally also comes as Nigeria’s Kaduna State Court adjourned the trial of the couple until March.

Those attending the protests called for the immediate and unconditional release of Zakzaky, who is the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN).

The IHRC made the plea with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday, reminding the illegal grounds on which the duo was being kept.

“Mallimah tested positive for COVID-19 this week in Kaduna state prison,” the IHRC said, referring to the facility in the northwestern city of Kaduna where they are being kept. Their release, it added, is necessary “to protect them from the spread of COVID-19 in the country’s jails.”

IHRC chief Massoud Shadjareh also said, “It is nothing short of scandalous that justice continues to be denied to both Mallimah and Sheikh Ibrahim al-Zakzaky even after six years in custody during which the authorities have failed to bring any conviction and in which scores have been murdered in cold blood for protesting the injustice.”

“How long is the international community going to allow the Nigerian government to continue murdering its own citizens?” he said.

More than five years have passed since hundreds of Muslims were killed in a massacre in the Nigerian city of Zaria. In 2015, at least 348 civilians were killed and 347 bodies were secretly buried, according to the official account. The real death toll is said to have been much higher.

The massacre took place when the Nigerian army stormed a religious ceremony, organized by the IMN, which represents the Shia Muslim minority in the country.

Not only has the Nigerian government refrained from paying compensation for the lives it took, it has also incarcerated followers of the movement and their leader, Sheikh Zakzaky, whose health is deteriorating in prison.

In 2016, Nigeria’s federal high court ordered Zakzaky’s unconditional release from jail following a trial, but the Nigerian government has so far refused to set him free.

Zakzaky was charged in April 2018 with murder, culpable homicide, unlawful assembly and disruption of public peace, among other accusations. He has vehemently rejected all those charges.

Sheikh Zakzaky was due to appear in court in September last year to face judgement on an application asking for the dismissal of the case against him, but the trial was adjourned to January this year, something observers said could put Sheikh’s life at risk.

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