HRW urges Nigeria to free pro-Iran cleric

Lagos - Human Rights Watch on Wednesday called on Nigeria to end a crackdown on a pro-Iran Shiite Islamic movement and obey a court ruling ordering its leader's release.

Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) leader Ibrahim Zakzaky and his wife have spent more than a year in prison following three days of clashes between his followers and soldiers in the northern city of Zaria in December last year.

"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," said Human Rights Watch in a statement.

The global rights watchdog said its intervention followed a report of a judicial commission of inquiry which found that the army used "excessive force" against IMN members during the December 12-14, 2015 clashes.

"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, senior Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch.

'Allegiance to a foreign power'

"The Kaduna state government's continued repression of the group without holding the attackers responsible turns justice on its head."

Apart from banning the IMN in October, the government last week called for Zakzaky's prosecution for his group's alleged "lawlessness" over the past 30 years.

The government accused the IMN of "allegiance to a foreign power", an apparent reference to Iran.

Trouble started on December 12 when Zakzaky's supporters refused to allow the chief of army staff's convoy to pass through the northern city of Zaria, sparking violent fighting that left some 350 people dead.

Zakzaky was shot and injured, leaving him partly paralysed and blinded in one eye while his home and several religious centres were demolished.

In April, Amnesty International accused the military of shooting dead some 350 Shiite Muslims, burying them in mass graves and destroying evidence of the crime.

Zakzaky has previously been imprisoned for calling for an Iranian-style revolution to create a Shiite Islamic state in the country's north.

Last month, at least 10 people were killed and several injured when police opened fire in clashes with the IMN during a religious procession.

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