At least two persons were killed in Abuja, Nigeria capital, when soldiers and police allegedly opened fire on Shia Muslims also known as the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) marking an important religious event, Arbaeen Trek, members who witnessed the incidents said.
The procession, a Shi’ite religious ritual, was organised by the IMN to commemorate the 40th-day after the killing of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. It was banned by the Nigerian government in 2019.
Witnesses told HumAngle that the Shia mourning ceremony became bloodshed when security agents fired live bullets to disperse the crowd around Gwarimpa gate near Galadimawa along Kubwa expressway, Abuja.
The security forces had failed to disperse crowds with tear-gas, after trying to block the march.
The marchers were rounding off their procession when the security forces shot at them, killing two people and leaving many injured, Ibrahim Musa, the IMN’s spokesperson told HumAngle.
“A combined team of Nigerian police and army just shot at our members who had been marching peacefully for about three kilometres at the Gwarimpa gate. This is not the first time they will treat us like this,” Musa said.
A video Musa shared with HumAngle showed some IMN members being surrounded and beaten by police officers with batons while other footage showed an IMN member with a bloody head wound after being attacked.
This was followed by plumes of smoke billowing above the sky after the police had fired tear-gas canisters. The police said the crowd was unruly and riotous, attacking security personnel.
“The miscreants who were found in their numbers were promptly intercepted by the security operatives and dispersed to prevent them from causing further disruption of public order and peace and damage to public and private assets,” said Josephine Adah, the police spokesperson in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Adah said 53 IMN members were rounded up by the security teams “without any casualty.”
However, Musa said that this year’s procession was preceded by a military build-up that was “reminiscent” to the run-up of clashes in December 2015 when 349 Shia Muslims were killed in Zaria, Kaduna State, Northwest Nigeria.
A judicial inquiry had ordered that the soldiers be prosecuted for those killings but the army blamed the unrest on the Shia sect, accusing its members of trying to assassinate the army chief.
The IMN denied the allegations. Its leader, Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky, who was immediately detained, was released in July, almost six years after the violent clash.
In 2019, the Nigerian government outlawed the IMN and banned its activities, saying it was a threat to the state.
Experts say the ban threatens the basic human rights of all Nigerians, especially, the rights to freedom of religion, association and expression, as guaranteed in the constitution.
“The government should seek to reverse the ban, which prohibits the religious group’s members from exercising their right to meet and carry out peaceful activities,” said Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch.
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