Demonstrators took to the streets in Delhi, Kashmir, Lucknow and Chennai to demand the release of the cleric.
Zakzaky, the man whose cause they were championing, is the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria. The Sheikh’s latest troubles began on December 12, when he led a protest against the Nigerian government in the city of Zaria During the protest, the government alleged, an army general’s car was hit by a projectile in an assassination attempt. In response, the government launched an offensive targeting the Sheikh and his followers for the next three days.
Sheikh Zakzaky’s followers claim that was wounded and later captured by the Nigerian army. His wife and son were reportedly killed. In an interview to Iranian News Channel Press TV, Ibrahim Musa, spokesperson of the claimed that there are over 800 bodies lying in the mortuary of Ahmadu Bello University Teaching hospital, among them 87 women. He also said that some of the corpses are in army barracks and are yet to reach the hospital.
But other reports from the region put the number of dead at just above 60.
The cleric began promoting Shia Islam in 1979 at the time of the Iranian revolution, in the hope of establishing an Islamic republic in Nigeria along similar religious lines. About half Nigeria’s 180 million citizens are Muslim, a fraction of whom are Shia. Zakzaky’s group is backed by Shia-dominated Iran and its members often go there to study. His followers have often run into conflict with members of the Sunni militant group Boko Haram, who believe that Shias are apostates who should be killed.
This isn’t his first clash with the authorities. In 2014, at a pro-Palestinian rally in Zaria, 34 protesters were killed by the army. The dead included three of Zakzaky’s sons. At the time, the army claimed that it was acting in self-defence.
The Sheikh’s detention is being closely followed by some Indian Shias. In Delhi, more than 500 people marched from Teen Moorti to Chanakyapuri police station area on Thursday. Protestors submitted a memorandum to the Nigerian embassy in New Delhi condemning the killings in and demanding the release of the Sheikh.
A similar protest took place in Kashmir, under the banner of the Anjuman-e-Imamia, Jammu and All Ladakh Muslim Association. “We condemn the killings in Nigeria, which shows that the Nigerian army is also acting like Boko Haram,” said Anjuman president Amanat Shah. “The United Nations should take notice of the brutal murder of hundreds of Shias, which is still going on.”
In Lucknow, noted Shia cleric and Imam-e-Juma, Maulana Kalbe Jawwad Naqvi also condemned the killings of Shia Muslims in Nigeria and wrote a letter to the Nigerian Ambassador conveying his anger and anguish. The Maulana said that the Ayatollah Zakzaky has always raised his voice against the brutality of ISIS in Syria and Iraq and advocated the cause of Palestine.
In Chennai, hundreds of Shia Muslims headed by Shia cleric Ghulam Mohammad Mehdi Khan held a protest against the Nigerian attacks. Here, the demonstrations against Nigeria were mixed up with support for Palestine. Some participants held posters with Lebanon’s resistance leader and Hezbollah chief Sayyad Hassan Nasrallah’s declaration: “Israel is weaker than spider’s web.”