KADUNA, Nigeria (Reuters) – Nigeria's Shiite Muslim minority leader was released on bail on Wednesday, days after the group said more than 40 of its members had been killed by security forces firing on demonstrators demanding his release.
FILE PHOTO: Protesters hold banners calling for the release of Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), in Abuja, Nigeria, on January 26, 2018. REUTERS / Afolabi Sotunde / File Photo
Ibrahim Zakzaky, leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), has been in detention since December 2015, when the army killed about 350 of his followers in his complex as well as a mosque and a burial site located in north of Kaduna State.
He is facing a trial for murder, willful homicide, illegal assembly, disruption of the public peace and other charges in the wake of the 2015 violence. Accused in April, he pleaded not guilty.
At a regular hearing before the Kaduna High Court, Judge Gideon Kurada said that no substantial medical evidence had been produced to grant bail to Zakzaky.
Kurada said that he should remain in detention throughout his trial. The next hearing is scheduled for January 22, 2019.
"We are disappointed with the court's decision," said Ibrahim Musa, a spokesman for IMN, adding that Zakzaky should have been released on bail for poor health.
"We will continue our protests in Abuja and in other cities," said Musa.
The treatment inflicted on IMN and Zakzaky for almost three years has sparked criticism from human rights groups and fears that the group is becoming radicalized – just as the Sunni militant group Boko Haram became a violent insurgency in 2009 after that the police killed his leader.
Last month, on three occasions, security forces fired on IMN members in Abuja, the capital, where they fired live bullets to demand Zakzaky's release.
Abdullahi Muhammed, a young leader of IMN, said Wednesday that the number of dead among supporters of the group is now 47.
The army said that three protesters were killed. A Reuters reporter counted 20 bodies during a burial.
Nearly half of Nigeria's 190 million people are Muslim, almost all of them Sunni.
Zakzaky has attracted about three million followers as a preacher of Shiite Islam since he was drawn to this branch of faith by the 1979 revolution in Iran.
Before Zakzaky was charged, the authorities ignored the court's decision to release him, prompting protests from his supporters. IMN events have often been violently contested.
Additional report by Paul Carsten in Abuja; Written by Alexis Akwagyiram; Edited by Alison Williams and Gareth Jones