The IHRC wrote to the President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari urging him to free the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) Sheikh Ibrahim el-Zakzaky and his wife Mallima Zeenah and end their near five-year ordeal.
The couple remain in custody in Kaduna state prison in defiance of a court ruling ordering their release. Despite previous correspondence with Buhari and other Nigerian and international officials there seems to be no end in sight to their continuing confinement.
The letter comes as the Zakzakys prepare to be hauled to court this Thursday to stand trial for their alleged involvement in violence that resulted in the death of a member of the security forces during a massacre by armed forces of supporters of the IMN in Zaria in December 2015.
Despite the fact that over 1000 innocent supporters of the IMN were butchered in the attack, not a single official has been charged or brought to trial over the killings. Yet we are faced with the spectacle of a politically driven criminal justice system persisting in the prosecution of a couple in defiance of a court order demanding their release, the IHRC’s website wrote.
In 2016 the federal high court ruled that the pair’s detention was unlawful and unconstitutional and ordered the Nigerian government to release them by January 16, 2017 and pay compensation. However, that ruling has never been enforced. Instead, perversely, state authorities in Kaduna decided to prosecute the pair in 2018.
The detention of the Zakzakys simply confirms the view that Nigerian authorities are conducting a witch-hunt against the couple and abusing the judicial system to keep them in prison in the hope that they will die quietly in custody. The case is also making a mockery of rule of law and due process. It raises serious questions over how ordinary Nigerians can be expected to have trust in their laws, institutions and processes when their government is allowed to publicly violate fundamental human rights with impunity.
The letter reminds Buhari that the Zaria massacre is already the subject of a preliminary investigation by the International Criminal Court, bringing unwelcome international attention to the country.