A Nigerian court has acquitted and freed Ibrahim el-Zakzaky, the leader of a prominent Shia group the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), who has been imprisoned for the past six years.
El-Zakzaky was found innocent of all eight criminal charges against him, defence and prosecution lawyers said.
He was arrested in 2015 after a clash in which the army killed an estimated 350 people at an IMN compound and a nearby mosque and burial ground in northern Kaduna state.
El-Zakzaky and his wife, who was also arrested in 2015, had been facing a range of charges, including aiding and abetting homicide, unlawful assembly and disruption of public peace.
“None of the 15 prosecution witnesses proved they committed the offence,” lawyer Sadau Garba told the AFP news agency after Wednesday’s hearing, adding that the couple had been acquitted and “regained their freedom today.”
Lead prosecutor Dari Bayero confirmed that the pair had been freed but said the state was planning to appeal.
IMN spokesperson Ibrahim Musa said the ruling was “a victory for perseverance in the face of extreme persecution.”
El-Zakzaky’s continued detention has led to street protests in the nation’s capital Abuja, sparking violent clashes with security forces that have killed dozens of lives. The Nigerian government officially outlawed the group in 2019.
Massoud Shadjareh, of the Islamic Human Rights Commission in London, has been campaigning for El-Zakzaky to be released.
He said: “The government and the prosecutor failed to prove any case whatsoever. I’m delighted but we must remember an innocent man lost six of his sons to this violent government and his sister was burnt alive in his house. The fact of the matter is that he should have been free well before this. But we now need to move forward – the Nigerian government can’t go on behaving in this way towards its own citizens.
“I just had a conversation with him and his wife and I think the most important thing is to get them out of Nigeria so that they can get the treatment that they’ve been waiting for over six years which is urgently needed. The fact of the matter is that people have suffered in a brutal way. And this is really going to stay as a dark mark on Nigeria.”