50 Western intellectuals called on UN chief to pressure Nigeria to release Sheikh Zakzaky

Fifty Western intellectuals have called on UN chief Antonio Guterres to pressure Nigeria to release top Shia Muslim leader Sheikh Ibrahim al-Zakzaky, who needs emergency medical treatment. In a recent letter to Guterres, the signatories called on the UN chief to push for an immediate release and treatment of Sheikh Zakzaky, the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN).

“We write to demand that Sheikh Zakzaky and his wife Mallima Zeenah be allowed to leave the country for urgent medical treatment,” read the letter, saying the cleric’s health has deteriorated in the last few days. The signatories included university professors, political analysts and human rights activists. They urged the world body to take concrete action against ongoing violations being committed against scholars and rights campaigners by Nigerian authorities and the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.

The continued detention of Sheikh Zakzaky and his wife “as well as hundreds of others has been a huge stain on the reputation of Nigerian government,” the letter said.

“By not allowing them to get the medical treatment they need, the Nigerian president is adding further evidence of his government’s inhumanity and cruelty,” it added.

Earlier this month, Zakzaky’s son, Mohammad, said he was shocked by his father’s worsening medical condition after visiting him. Mohammad said large and dangerous quantities of lead and cadmium had been found in Zakzaky’s blood and the cleric needed to be immediately hospitalized.

Nigerian authorities, he said, had not taken any action and that they intended to murder his father.

The IMN says the cleric has been poisoned in prison and requires urgent medical care abroad. It says the group would hold President Buhari responsible “if anything should happen to Zakzaky or his wife in detention”.

The UK-based Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) also recently announced that it had received reports about Zakzaky’s health condition having further worsened. The IHRC, which sent a medical team to Nigeria in April to examine the health of Sheikh Zakzaky and his wife, has said the specialist treatment they require can only be fully accessed outside the African country. Sheikh Zakzaky has been in detention since December 2015 after his residence in the city of Zaria was raided by Nigerian forces, during which he was beaten and lost his left eye.

Three of his sons also lost their lives in the brutal crackdown, while his wife sustained serious wounds and more than 300 of his followers were killed. Zakzaky was charged in April 2018 with murder, culpable homicide, unlawful assembly, disruption of public peace and other accusations. He has pleaded not guilty, vehemently rejecting all accusations brought up against him.

In 2016, Nigeria’s federal high court ordered Zakzaky’s unconditional release from jail following a trial, but the government has so far refused to set him free. In their letter, the scholars branded the Nigerian authorities as one of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, citing the Abuja regime’s discrimination against Shia Muslims. They also strongly denounced the meaningful silence of the Western countries and international institutions over the ongoing abuses against Muslims in the African country. Zakzaky to remain in jail for 11 more days.

Meanwhile, a Nigerian court has ordered the leader of the country’s Islamic Movement to be kept in prison for another eleven days despite his deteriorating health conditions. The court convened to consider Sheikh Zakzaky’s unconditional release on the grounds of his deteriorating health conditions. During the hearing, Sheikh Zakzaky’s lawyer said he was in critical condition and may not survive the next 11 days.

Sheikh Zakzaky’s lawyer also said the cleric had suffered a stroke last week and hasn’t gotten sleep for seven days. The next hearing has been adjourned until July 29. The official Twitter account of Sheikh Zakzaky’s office first noted on Thursday that the Sheikh will be remanded in prison for seven more years, but then issued a correction confirming that he will be there for 11 days until Monday, July 29.

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