Nigerian Shia leader, wife reject treatment in India, return home

Ibrahim El Zakzaky and his wife have been received by security operatives in Abuja and returned to custody.

Shia members in Nigeria have continued protests, calling for the release of their leader Ibrahim El Zakzaky [Sunday Alamba/The Associated Press]

Nigerian Shia leader Ibrahim El Zakzaky and his wife have made a dramatic return to the country, three days after arriving in India to receive medical treatment, according to aviation officials and his lawyer.

The detained leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) and Zeenat Ibrahim on Friday landed in Abuja’s international airport from New Delhi on an Ethiopian Airlines flight, according to supporters and lawyers.

They were received by security operatives and taken back into custody.

“He is in custody of the State Security Service and no one is allowed access to him,” Mahdi Garba, a supporter of El Zakzaky, told Al Jazeera.

The detained couple had flown out of the country on Monday after a court in the northern state of Kaduna granted them bail in order to seek treatment abroad.

El Zakzaky reportedly refused treatment at an Indian hospital when his preferred medical team was changed, and he requested to be sent back to Nigeria.

In a video circulated on social media, the controversial IMN leader complained of unfair treatment and tough restrictions by security operatives deployed to the medical facility.

“He lost all hope in the hospital,” his lawyer, Harun Magashi, told Al Jazeera.

“They were trying to sneak in some doctors to treat him against his wishes, and they treated him like a criminal, placing armed Indian police even inside his room,” Magashi said.

El 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 Kaduna state.

A court in 2016 said El Zakzaky should be released but authorities refused.

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.

After the Kaduna court ruling, the Nigerian State Security Service immediately pledged to obey the ruling.

In recent weeks, Shia members had launched a series of demonstrations in the capital, Abuja, and Lagos to demand the release of their leader and his wife from prison to seek medical treatment.

Several people were killed and more than 50 IMN members were arrested in clashes with police that also saw the killing of a journalist and a police officer, as well as the closure of the parliament building in Abuja.

The group, which represents Nigeria’s minority Shia Muslims, says it will continue protesting until it secures the release of El Zakzaky, who founded IMN in the late 1970s.

The Nigerian government recently banned the Shia group following a court decision allowing authorities to call it a “terrorist” organisation.

The office of President Muhammadu Buhari said the government “had to act” against the group before the situation got out of control.

Mercy Abang in Abuja contributed to this report

Source: Al Jazeera