Ibrahim Zakzaky, founder of Islamic Movement in Nigeria, his wife Zeenah Ibrahim, acquitted of all eight criminal charges, says their lawyer.

Ibrahim Zakzaky, has been jailed since 2015 when government forces reportedly killed around 350 people in a storming of its compound and a nearby mosque.
Ibrahim Zakzaky, has been jailed since 2015 when government forces reportedly killed around 350 people in a storming of its compound and a nearby mosque. (Reuters Archive)

A Nigerian court has acquitted and released Shia cleric Ibrahim Zakzaky, who had been detained for murder with his wife since 2015, one of his lawyers said.

Zakzaky, founder of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), his wife Zeenah Ibrahim, and 200 of their followers were arrested in a violent crackdown on the group in the northern city of Zaria.

"None of the 15 prosecution witnesses proved they committed the offence," said Sadau Garba after Wednesday's hearing.

"The court has discharged and acquitted Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky and his wife of all the charges... They have regained their freedom today," the lawyer said.

The couple had been facing a range of charges filed by the state government in 2018, including aiding and abetting homicide, unlawful assembly and disruption of public peace.

Justice Gideon Kurada ruled there were no charges to answer and acquitted the pair. Prosecution lawyer Dari Bayero confirmed the ruling. 

A Reuters news agency witness saw the couple leave the courthouse in a van driven by supporters.

Hundreds killed in 2015 clampdown 

Nigerian troops launched a ferocious clampdown on the IMN in December 2015, when members blocked the convoy of the army chief of staff during a religious procession.

Rights groups said some 350 IMN members were killed and buried in mass graves.

The Nigerian government officially outlawed the group in 2019 in a move that sparked fears of a continued clampdown.

"We will certainly seek damages against the Kaduna state government for all the deprivations and the travails our client suffered," Garba said.

"They now need to go home, have some rest and attend to their urgent medical needs."

'Victory for perseverance'

IMN spokesman Ibrahim Musa said the ruling is "a victory for perseverance in the face of extreme persecution." 

Zakzaky's supporters at the courthouse said they feared police would re-arrest him following his release.

Shia are a small minority in Nigeria, where around half the population are Muslim, overwhelmingly Sunni.

Source: AFP