A Nigerian court has granted the government permission to label a local Shia group as a “terrorist” organisation.
Dayo Apata, Nigeria’s solicitor general, confirmed on Saturday that a federal court allowed the government to proscribe the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) as such, a move offering the authorities the chance to clamp down harder on the group.
IMN members have been marching in the capital Abuja calling for the release of their leader, Ibrahim el-Zakzaky, who has been in detention since 2015 despite a court order to release him.
Zakzaky’s office said plans to ban the movement had been considered since 2015 and it was not surprised by the move.
The protests have often turned violent. The Shia organisation said at least 20 of its members were killed this week during a series of protests in Abuja. No official death toll has been released by police.
Security was stepped up across the country in the face of the ongoing protests, which police say are violent and unruly.
Zakzaky has been held in detention since December 2015 when the army killed almost 350 of his followers at his compound and a nearby mosque and burial ground in northern Kaduna state.
He faces charges of murder, culpable homicide, unlawful assembly, disruption of public peace, and other offences following the 2015 violence. He has pleaded not guilty.
The latest round of protests and the ensuing deadly crackdown has raised concerns, with rights groups calling for an investigation into the killings.
“The Nigerian police’s apparent rush to use firearms against Shia movement protesters is unlawful and counterproductive,” said Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch, in a statement on Wednesday.
“The authorities should bring an end to their violent crackdown on the Shia Islamic Movement in Nigeria, and investigate the excessive use of force by the police,” she added.
The group, which represents Nigeria’s minority Shia Muslims, says it will continue protesting until it secures the release of Zakzaky, an Islamic scholar who founded IMN in the late 1970s.