Release detained Shi’ites cleric or risk fresh insurgency, Falana warns FG

FOR the umpteenth time, Human Rights Lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana has advised the Federal Government to release the detained Shi’ites Islamic Group cleric, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife, Malama Zeinab El Zakzaky to avoid the likelihood of a fresh insurgency.

The lawyer asked for the cleric’s release for medical reasons, saying he already lost an eye.

“This nation cannot afford another war of insurgency which is being provoked by the contemptuous conduct of the federal government in the handling of the case of the El-Zakzakys,” says Falana in a report by The Nation.

In April 2017, Falana, in a public letter to President Muhammadu Buhari demanded the release of the cleric. The day coincided with the 500th day El Zakzaky and Zeinab have been in detention.

“In view of the commitment of your administration to end impunity in the country we urge Your Excellency to use your good offices to direct the State Security Service to release our clients from further incarceration in compliance with the orders of the Federal High Court.

“We also pray Your Excellency to direct the Nigerian Army to investigate and prosecute the military personnel responsible for the brutal murder of 347 members of the Shia Community at Zaria in December 2015,” the letter read in part.

“Should Your Excellency refuse to ensure compliance with the said orders of the Federal High Court we shall be compelled to embark on contempt proceedings against the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice as well as the Director-General of State Security Service. If the military personnel indicted by the Judicial Commission of Enquiry are not prosecuted we shall request the Special Prosecutor of the ICC to put them on trial for crimes against humanity.”

Two months after, the lawyer again petitioned the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo also demanding for the release of his client.

In January 2018 Falana further demanded the release of the duo stressing that they were being held despite the Federal High Court order which ruled in their favour.

Meanwhile, in December 2016 the high court in Abuja ordered their releases from detention, saying the continued detention violates their rights and is against Section 35(1) of the constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.

Since December 2014 when the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) had a violent clash with the Nigerian military, the sect has repeatedly agitated for the release of their leader with the wife, while most of the followers were either shot, injured or arrested in the protests.

However, the Falana warned the sustained detention and killings of the El Zakzaky protesters by security operatives could unleash another form of insurgency the Federal Government has battled over the years.

According to him, over 1, 000 Shi’ite members were reportedly massacred by the military during the Kaduna incident, on order of the military chief over claims of an assassination attempt on the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai.

His words: “Without any autopsy or identification the slaughtered Shi’ites were given a mass burial in an unmarked grave in Mango village in Kaduna State. Even though the leader of the Shi’ites, Sheik Ibraheem Elzakzaky was not at the scene of the attack his residence was invaded by the rampaging troops two days later.

“The troops set the house ablaze, shot at Elzakzaky and his wife, Malama Zeinab Elzakzaky and killed three of their sons in cold blood in their presence. As if such barbaric assault was not enough the army arrested and held Elzakzaky and his wife in custody before handing them over to the State Security Service (DSS).

“At that stage, the houses of Elzakzaky and other leaders in Zaria were demolished by the Kaduna State Government on the orders of Governor Nasir El Rufai.”

Falana argued further that after the judicial commission of enquiry, set up by the state government to probe the massacre, it was established there was no plan to assassinate the COAS as claimed by the military.

File photo: The El-Zakzakys

According to him, findings by the commission showed that 347 Shi’ites were murdered by the military, an offence he said is against the Army Rules of Engagement and the Geneva Conventions.

“The detained Elzakzaky was prevented from responding to the allegations made against him and his group at the enquiry. But the judicial commission found that there was no plan by the Shi’ites to assassinate General Buratai.

“It was also revealed at the panel that 347 Shi’ites were massacred by the army in violations of the Army Rules of Engagement and the Geneva Conventions. Apart from condemning the brutal massacre of the Shi’ites, the judicial commission recommended that the culprits be prosecuted.

    “Instead of implementing the recommendation by prosecuting the well-known murderers, the Kaduna State Government turned round to charge over 300 Shi’ites with the culpable homicide of a soldier who was killed by his colleagues during the attack.

    “But the defence team convinced the Kaduna State High Court to free the Shi’ites as they were not involved in the commission of the offence. Accordingly, the charge was dismissed for want of evidence while the trial court proceeded to discharge and acquit all the defendants.”

    “In particular, Elzakzaky has lost an eye while he is the process of losing the other one. The wife can no longer walk as a result of the gun wounds inflicted on her during the military attack of December 2015. Without adducing any reason whatsoever the federal government has ignored the recommendation of the physicians. The Shi’ites are currently protesting the refusal of the Buhari regime to release Elzakzaky and his wife from custody to enable them travel abroad to receive urgent medical treatment at their own expense.

    “Elzakzaky must not be allowed to die due to medical neglect as it may provoke a crisis of monumental proportions. Therefore, the federal government should implement the unanimous resolution of the House of Representatives for the release of Elzakzaky and his wife without any further delay,” says Falana.

    Olugbenga heads the Investigations Desk at The ICIR. Do you have a scoop? Shoot him an email at [email protected]. Twitter Handle: @OluAdanikin

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