El-Zakzaky and his wife, Malama have been in detention without charge for more than a year following a clash between his supporters and the Nigerian military in which lives were lost. The authorities claim the Muslim cleric is being held in “protective custody.”
As the pressure mounts on the government, it is left with the option of releasing El-Zakzaky and his wife to avoid fuelling the allegation of illegal detention. The government may then expedite their prosecution to determine their guilt or innocence.
“The 45-day deadline given for their release expires today. If the government deliberately disregards the orders of its own courts, it will demonstrate a flagrant–and dangerous–contempt for the rule of law,” Interim Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, Makmid Kamara said in a statement.
“El-Zakzaky is being unlawfully detained. This might be part of a wider effort to cover up the gruesome crimes committed by members of the security forces in Zaria in December 2015 that left hundreds dead.”
On 2 December 2016, the Federal High Court in Abuja ruled that El- Zakzaky and Malama should be released within 45 days. The court described their detention, which began in December 2015, as illegal and unconstitutional. The deadline for the court order expires today.
Amnesty International also called on the authorities to release other IMN supporters arrested at the same time as El-Zakzaky and his wife, who likewise remain in detention without charge.The group said its research showed that more than 350 IMN members were killed by security forces between 12 and 14 December 2015 in Zaria, Kaduna State.
The IMN is a Shit’ite religious organisation whose leader, El-Zakzaky, has been a proponent of Shi’a Islam in Nigeria since the 1980s.Processions, demonstrations and other activities organised by the IMN, usually without obtaining the necessary permits and at times blocking public roads, have resulted in confrontation with the Nigerian authorities and strained relations with other communities.
The controversy leading to the arrest of El-Zakzaky, his wife and hundreds of his disciples started with the clash between members of the Islamic group and soldiers late December, 2015, leading to the death of scores of the victims.
Specifically, on December 11, the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. General Tukur Buratai, was on its way to the Zaria depot of the Nigerian Army to review a parade of the 74 Regular Recruits and also later, to pay a courtesy call on the Emir of Zazzau, when it ran into the Islamic group who were on a procession.
The attempts by the COAS armed convoy to disperse the crowd were said to have been rebuffed and this led to a shootout and deaths of some Shiites members.The events that followed the bloody crisis led to the demolition of El-Zakzaky’s residence in Gyelesu area, IMN religious centre in Hussainiya, while the Shiites leader also lost one of his wives, Zeenat and his son, Sayyid Aliyu with several other members of the movement.
Besides, the outcry that followed the clash made the Kaduna State government to set up a commission of Inquiry, led by Justice Muhammad Garba Lawal to unravel the immediate and remote causes of the confrontation and make recommendations on how to avert such an incident in future, and further come out with punishment against anyone or group found guilty.
The Shiites who were enraged at the killings of their members and arrest and detention of El-Zakzaky, wife and other members of the group decided to embark on a series of protests. They boycotted the commission of inquiry set up by the state government, citing “lack of confidence” in members of the panel as one of the reasons for their action.
However, after several sittings by the Justice Lawal’s commission of Inquiry, the panel finally released its report to the state government. One of its recommendations was the proscription of the religious body.
As the embattled IMN members continued to agitate for the release of their leader and other members, the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja came out with a judgment, urging the Federal Government to release El-Zakzaky within 45 days, and pay a compensation of N50 million to him and his wife.
Since the judgment by the Federal High Court, the government is yet to abide with it, while members of the IMN have continued to mount pressure for the release of El-Zakzaky and his wife.