IHRC letter to Buhari urges him to end Zakzakys' ordeal

Dear President,

I am writing once again to draw your urgent attention to the unlawful detention of the leader of the country’s Islamic Movement, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, together with his wife Mallimah Zeenah.

As you will no doubt be aware, the couple remain in custody in Kaduna state prison in defiance of a court ruling ordering their release.

Despite previous correspondence with yourself and other Nigerian and international officials we are disappointed by the failure to date to take any positive action to bring their continued ordeal to a just conclusion.

The couple are due to appear in court again this Thursday 30 July to answer what are widely acknowledged to be politically motivated charges.

They are being tried for culpable homicide for allegedly being responsible for ordering violence that resulted in the death of a member of the security forces during a massacre by armed forces of supporters of the Islamic Movement in Zaria in December 2015.

Despite the fact that over 1000 innocent supporters of the Islamic Movement 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.

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.

Even that prosecution is looking incredibly flimsy. Kaduna State Court, where the couple are being tried, has already thrown out murder charges against two groups of Islamic Movement supporters accused of killing the security official for lack of evidence. If there are no perpetrators of an alleged offence it follows that there can be no one that has directed them to carry it out.

Already the subject of a preliminary investigation by the International Criminal Court, the Zaria massacre has brought unwelcome international attention to the country. The continuing prosecution of the Zakzaky’s risks damaging the country’s reputation even more, not least because the couple are both in poor health and at severe risk whilst in prison during the Covid-19 pandemic. While you have pardoned hundreds of prisoners in order to relieve pressure on prisons, you have ignored numerous pleas to extend the same clemency to the Zakzakys.

Their ongoing maltreatment has simply confirmed 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 of the Zakzakys is 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.

On the eve of the great Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha, an occasion that is traditionally marked with the release of prisoners in Muslim countries, we urge you to look again at the plight of the Zakzakys in the spirit of justice and fairness. Their ordeal must be brought to a swift and just end, in a manner that is consistent with all applicable domestic and international human rights laws and standards.

Yours faithfully

Massoud Shadjareh

Chair, Islamic Human Rights Commission