LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — A Nigerian court has ordered the release of the leader of the country’s main Shia group, Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, and his wife, Zeenah Ibrahim, who have both been in prison for more than five years.
A High Court in the northern city of Kaduna on Wednesday dismissed charges brought against them which include culpable homicide, unlawful assembly and disruption of public peace.
Zakzaky, leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, has been in prison without trial since 2015 after soldiers clashed with members of his group at their headquarters in the northern city of Zaria. Zakzaky and his wife sustained bullet wounds in the incident.
At least 375 Shias were killed in the incident, according to officials, but the Islamic Movement of Nigeria claims that more than 1,000 of their supporters were killed in the clashes.
Zakzaky and his wife have been held in prison in connection with the death of a soldier said to have been killed during the incident.
Three of Zakzaky‘s children were among those killed during the incident.
The December 2015 attack was one of several the police and the military have carried out against Shias.
The Shia, a minority Muslim sect, say they are being persecuted by the majority Sunni Muslims.
Authorities have been concerned about the rapid growth of the Shias who they accused of trying to establish an Iranian style government in Nigeria.
The government earlier refused a December 2016 court order to release Zakzaky and his wife.
It is unclear if the government will respect this latest court order to release them.
Scores of Shia members have been killed in past years as the police violently put down protests demanding their release. In 2019 after large demonstrations, Nigerian authorities banned the Shia group describing it as a terrorist organization.
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