World Bulletin / News Desk
A Nigerian court on Friday ordered the release of the leader of a pro-Iranian Shiite group detained since December after his followers clashed with soldiers.
The federal high court in Abuja said Ibrahim Zakzaky, who heads the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) and his wife should be released within 45 days and ordered the government to provide them with a new home since their residence was demolished during the violence.
"The applicant is entitled to have judgement enter in his favour," said Judge Gabriel Kolawole in his ruling on Zakzaky's legal challenge against his detention.
The judge also dismissed the argument of the prosecution and secret police that the Islamic cleric was being kept in "protective custody".
Kolawole said he would have given an order for the cleric's immediate freedom had his home not been destroyed.
"The applicant shall be released within 45 days from today," he said, adding that he should be given a "proper and decent" accommodation in a place of his choice in northern Nigeria.
The judge also awarded 25 million naira ($79,000) each to Zakzaky and his wife for unlawful detention.
The couple were arrested on December 15, 2015, after two days of bloody clashes between Zakzaky's supporters and soldiers which led to the death of over 300 people, including his two children.
His house and headquarters of the IMN were also razed. Zakzaky was said to have lost an eye and was left partly paralysed.
Festus Okoye, Zakzaky's lawyer, said he was "happy with the judgement", hoping that "the state will stop engaging in hostile action against the applicant so that we can have some level of peace and stability within the Nigerian nation".
Meanwhile, the government lawyer,Tijani Gazali said they would study the judgement and then decide whether to appeal.
The fighting began on December 12, 2015, when supporters of the pro-Iranian cleric refused to allow the chief of army staff's convoy to pass through the northern city of Zaria in Kaduna state.
In April, rights group Amnesty International accused Nigeria's military of shooting dead some 350 Shiite Muslims, burying them in mass graves and destroying evidence of the crime.
Zakzaky has previously been imprisoned for calling for an Iranian-style revolution to create a Shiite Islamic state in the country's north.
Last month, at least 10 people were killed and several injured when police opened fire in clashes with the IMN during a religious celebration.