IHRC has called on the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Commonwealth Secretariat to take urgent action to stop what appears to be another impending assault on Nigeria’s Islamic Movement (IMN).
The calls follow reports that Nigerian soldiers are massing in the city of Katsina in northern Nigeria to attack followers of the movement. Earlier this morning witnesses saw armed troops surrounding the main Jum’a Mosque, where a peaceful procession marking the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter Fatima was due to begin.
Organisers decided to move the starting point of the procession to another location in order to avoid a confrontation and procession went ahead and ended without any incident.
However, since the end of the procession the army has setup roadblocks on almost all the major roads leading into Katsina. Armed soldiers and police officers have been heard chanting that this is “the end of the Shia in Katsina”. A similar chant was used before and during attacks on the movement in Zaria last December in which at least 1000 civilians were killed.
That assault left a trail of bloodshed and destruction including the shooting of the movement’s leader Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky and his wife Zeenat. Both are currently believed to be in military custody, detained without charge.
“Based on information received from Katsina, we fear that the Nigerian army is about to carry out another attack against the IMN. The army is poised to attack the Markaz Islamic Centre in Katsina at any moment, possibly killing all its occupants and destroying it just as it did to Hussainiyya Islamic Centre in Zaria in December,” says the letters from IHRC to the FCO and Commonwealth Secretariat.
IHRC has made asked both the FCO and CS to:
1. To call on the Nigerian government to immediately stop the army from attacking the IMN and civilians in Katsina. The army must remove its roadblocks and move away from the civilian population of Katsina.
2. Suspend Nigeria’s membership of the Commonwealth for the violence perpetrated by its army against the IMN;
3. Call on the Nigerian government to release all those who were arrested in Zaria following the attacks on 12 and 13 December 2015;
4. Demand that the Nigerian government provide proper and immediate medical attention to all detainees and that all are released;
5. To call for an independent investigation, under the auspices of an international body like the UN, into the violence and mass graves in Zaria in December 2015. The bodies of those in the mass graves need to be exhumed, identified and returned to their families. The Nigerian government and army needs to be held accountable for these crimes.
Last week IHRC referred the events in Zaria to the International Criminal Court asking it to open a preliminary war crimes investigation into the massacre. IHRC believes that the army’s assault was a systematic and pre-planned attempt to snuff out the IMN whose growing popularity has made it a thorn in the side of Nigerian governments. A similar army assault in July 2014 during a religious preocession led to the deaths of 34 IMN members including three sons of Sheikh Zakzaky who were apparently singled out for execution.
Eyewitnesses have reported that during December’s violence soldiers were seen celebrating and chanting slogans against the IMN, such as ‘we have finished with the Shia and Zakzaky’ and ‘no more Shias in Nigeria’. Although the IMN has support among Nigeria’s Sunnis and Shias it is often portrayed by its detractors as a Shia organisation.
Notes to editors:
The IHRC submission to the ICC can be read in full at http://ihrc.org.uk/publications/reports/11646-investigating-the-attack-against-the-islamic-movement-of-nigeria-on-12-13-december-2015-in-zaria
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