Islamic Human Rights Commission
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 21.10.97
ref: NIGERIA / COMMONWEALTH / Prisoners of conscience
COMMONWEALTH SECRETARY-GENERAL COVERS UP FOR NIGERIAN HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES Trial of the Zaria Four to resume: grave concerns for their safety.
The trial of the Zaria Four is set to resume tomorrow, two days before the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in which the fate of Nigeria and other miscreant nations will be discussed.
The Zaria Four, including Mu’allim Ibrahim Al-Zakzaky the leader of Nigeria’s Islamic opposition, have been imprisoned since September 1996. They were charged this August with treason, for the printing of Al-Zakzaky’s statement, that there is no sovereignty except through God. The four have all pleaded not guilty, and could face the death penalty.
In a press statement, the secretary-general of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, himself Nigerian, praised what he said were the junta’s positive steps towards democracy. IHRC is concerned that such statements show a continued lack of interest by the Commonwealth to take a firm and punitive stance against the regime of Sani Abacha.
Whilst earlier this year the Commonwealth was keen to condemn human rights abuses in Nigeria, no further action against the country was taken. Since that time the situation for Muslims in particular, in Nigeria, has worsened. In a recent bowing to pressure from human rights campaigners, an estimated 400 political prisoners from across the country were released.
However in the run up to this trial in the last two months there has been an increase in the arbitrary arrest, torture and release without charge of Nigerians suspected of supporting Al-Zakzaky. There have been two reports of deaths and further reports of rape, whilst in custody.
By implication, Chief Anyaoku’s statement signals the Commonwealth’s readiness to accept Nigeria back into its fold. IHRC asks how far the Commonwealth is prepared to turn a blind eye for the reinstitution of one of its worst members?
IHRC is calling for the release of all political prisoners in Nigeria, regardless of racial, confessional or political background.