KADUNA, Nigeria (Reuters) – A banned Nigerian Shi’ite Muslim group on Wednesday said it had suspended a series of protests calling for the release of its detained leader and will temporarily seek other avenues to secure his release.
Nigeria banned the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) this week and outlawed its demonstrations, after a week of protests in which the group said at least 20 of its members were killed in crackdowns by police. Police gave no death toll.
The group’s leader, Ibrahim Zakzaky, has been held since 2015 when government forces killed around 350 people in a storming of its compound and a nearby mosque.
“The Islamic Movement in Nigeria do hereby announce to the general public and the international community that it has temporarily suspended its Free Zakzaky street protests to allow for some new openings into the resolution of the problems,” it said in a statement on Wednesday.
The government says IMN incites violence, and a court has given the authorities permission to label it a terrorist organization. IMN denies it is violent, and says Zakzaky should be released in line with a December 2016 court order.
IMN is the largest Shi’ite organization in a country where around half of the population is Muslim, overwhelmingly Sunni.
Nigeria considers some Islamist movements to be a security threat after a decade combating the insurgency by Sunni Muslim militant group Boko Haram in which 30,000 people have been killed. The death of Boko Haram’s leader in custody was one of the events that set that group on a violent path.
“We sincerely hope an amicable way could be found to solve the crises surrounding the illegal detention of our leader for almost four years now,” said IMN.
On Monday a judge adjourned a bail hearing for Zakzaky until Aug. 5.