Nigerian authorities last month arrested and imprisoned the wives and children of two senior Islamic activists already under arrest. Zeenah Ibrahim, wife of imprisoned Muslim leader Mu’allim Ibrahim Al-Zakzaky, was arrested in the northern town of Zaria on April 17, along with six of their children, Nusaibah (11 years old), Ahmad (9), Hamid (8), Suhailah (6) Hammad (4) and Emad, aged only 17 months. Zakzaky’s eldest son, Muhammad, was arrested and severely beaten by police in November 1996, when he was only ten years old. He has since been taken out of the country.
Also arrested on April 17 were Maryam Muhammad, the wife of Hamid Danlami, and their six children, and other members of both families. All those arrested, including the children, have been charged with inciting hatred against the government and insulting the president, general Sani Abacha.
Seventeen people were later killed by police as they demonstrated against the arrests in various north Nigerian towns, including Zaria and Kaduna. At least two of those killed were by-standers unrelated to the demonstrations.
Mu’allim Zakzaky, leader of the Nigerian Muslim Brotherhood, has been imprisoned since September 1996, along with Hamid Danlami, an Islamic publisher, Muhammad Shittu and Abubakr Abdullahi. Known as the Zaria Four, they are presently on trial for causing public disaffection. Their trial began in October last year and has been regularly adjourned ever since.
The charges they face revolve round the publication of a statement by Zakzaky in the Islamist magazine Al-Mizan, that there is no government except that ordained by Allah. Zakzaky has been conducting his own and his co-defendants’ defence and has forced even the prosecution witnesses to testify that there are no grounds for prosecution. During cross-examination he asked the arresting officer whether the literature he saw was illegal, according to Nigerian law. The officer answered that there was nothing he saw, which as a Muslim he felt was contrary to Islam. Campaigners for the Zaria Four, and other prisoners of the Muslim Brotherhood, see these latest events as yet another attempt to pressure the four to plead guilty.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Nigeria has been active for the last 20 years. Their aim has been to establish Islamic justice in Nigeria. The 45-year-old Zakzaky has been repeatedly incarcerated by successive civilian and military regimes over. Support for the movement has steadily increased. Part of its success lies in its commitment to education, including that of sisters. Its infrastructure of schools, and local madrasahs has been under severe pressure from local authorities since Zakzaky’s arrest. A number of schools, and the Islamic seminary recently built in Zaria have been demolished, together with the homes of members of the movement or those who have given shelter to them or their families.
Zakzaky’s family has been subjected to severe harassment ever since his arrest. They have been evicted from successive homes, and a warrant was issued for the arrest of Zeenah Ibrahim days before she was due to deliver her seventh child.
An international campaign in support of Ibrahim Al-Zakzaky and the Zaria Four is being organised by the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) in London. The ‘Free Al-Zakzaky Campaign’ is calling on all those who can to help campaign for the release of all those imprisoned for their Islamic beliefs.
The IHRC, which co-ordinates the campaign, has received a disturbing letter from Zeenah Ibrahim, written after her imprisonment. As with all prisoners in Nigeria, they are denied food and water unless they can pay for it. Neither the Zakzaky family nor many others imprisoned have access to funds, or indeed have any family remaining who can help or support them. As a result many run into debt just to survive. The IHRC has also established a fund to support the Zaria Four, their families and other Islamic activists imprisoned in Nigeria. Details can be obtained from the IHRC, PO Box 598, Wembley, UK, HA0 4XX.
Muslimedia: May 1-15, 1998