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Shiite Protesters In Tehran Demand Release Of Nigerian Pro-Iran Cleric

Protesters in Tehran holding portraits of Sheik Ibrahim Yaqoub El Zakzaky, a fire-brand Shiite cleric jailed in Nigerisa. July 17, 2019

A group calling itself “students and seminary scholars of the world of Islam” held a protest in front of the Nigerian embassy on Wednesday afternoon in Tehran. Carrying banners, they demanded the release of a Nigerian Shi'ite cleric, Sheik Ibrahim Yaqoub El Zakzaky who has been in custody since December 2015.

Zakzaky, who carries the title of Ayatollah is an outspoken leading Shi'ite cleric in Nigeria. He is the founder and head of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN). He launched the movement in the 1980s, to copy the Iran’s Islamic revolution that led to the downfall of the pro-West monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, in 1979.

In December 2015, the Nigerian Army raided his residence in Zaria, seriously injured him and his wife and killing three of his sons and hundreds of his followers. Since then, he has remained under detention in the nation's capital, Abuja. He was ordered to be released by a federal high court in late 2016. The army simply ignored the order.

Later in April 2018, he was charged with murder, culpable homicide, unlawful assembly, disruption of public peace and other accusations. He has pleaded not guilty.

He has received strong ideological and many believe financial support from Iran, but it is not clear to what degree he was posing any security threat to the government.

In a statement issued after the rally protesters who belonged to Iran’s government supported Hezbollah groups called upon international bodies to look into Zakzaky's case.

Referring to Zakzaky as the "leader of Nigerian Shi'ites," the statement insisted that the 66-year-old cleric was innocent but kept behind bars without having access to medical treatment.

Furthermore, the protesters maintained without presenting any evidence that the Nigerian authorities have been adamant about not releasing Zakzaky merely to appease Israel and the U.S.

Of Nigeria's 180 million population, around 50 percent are Muslims, a small minority of which belong to Shi'a Islam, 40 percent Christians and 10 percent indigenous beliefs.