A federal court in Nigeria has granted permission to the government to label a local Shi’ite Muslim group as a terrorist organization, reported Reuters.
The members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) have been marching in the capital Abuja to demand the release of their leader, Ibrahim Zakzaky.
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 continues to be in detention despite a court order to release him.
Zakzaky faces charges of murder, culpable homicide, unlawful assembly, disruption of public peace, and other offenses following the 2015 violence. He has pleaded not guilty.
The protests by members of the Shi’ite group have often turned violent. According to an IMN spokesman, at least 20 of the group’s members were killed last week during demonstrations after Nigerian police opened fire to disperse the protesters.
Dayo Apata, Nigeria’s solicitor general, confirmed to Reuters through a mobile text message that a federal court in Abuja had granted the government permission to proscribe the IMN. The move will offer the authorities the chance to clamp down harder on the group.
An IMN spokesman said they have not yet received any formal notice and that the marches would continue until it secures the release of Zakzaky. Meanwhile, Zakzaky’s office said it was not surprised by the move as plans to ban the movement had been considered since 2015.
A court in the northern state of Kaduna will decide on Zakzaky’s bail application on Monday. The Shi’ite group can appeal the order.