Protesters hold banners calling for the release of Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, in Abuja, Nigeria, in January 2018. Picture: REUTERS/AFOLABI SOTUNDE
Protesters hold banners calling for the release of Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, in Abuja, Nigeria, in January 2018. Picture: REUTERS/AFOLABI SOTUNDE

A Nigerian court refused on Wednesday to release a Shiite Muslim cleric detained since 2015 following deadly clashes between troops and his supporters, his lawyer said.

Ibrahim Zakzaky, who leads the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), and his wife, Zeenat, are standing trial on charges of culpable homicide and unlawful assembly.

At the state high court in the northern city of Kaduna, soldiers barred the media and the public in a move denounced by his lawyer, Maxwell Kyon.

"We find that to be quite troubling because the definition of free trial should include access to the courtroom by the public," Kyon said after the hearing.

"My client was in court today. The court refused to grant him bail."

His legal team had called for his release on health grounds, saying he needed urgent medical care abroad, but the court turned the request down.

"The court is of the view that we were not able to establish that he is sick, and that even if he is sick, the (intelligence services) can provide the medical attention he needs," said Kyon. The judge acknowledged the defendant had been kept in custody for nearly three years, but promised a "speedy trial", he said.

Zakzaky will remain in custody until a further hearing on January 22.

The pro-Iranian cleric's court appearance comes after renewed unrest involving the IMN last week, which human rights groups said left at least 45 people dead.

Soldiers and police allegedly fired on demonstrators in Abuja calling for Zakzaky's release. The army put the death toll at six, and said 400 IMN supporters were arrested.

Zakzaky, who is in his mid-60s, has been at loggerheads for decades with Nigeria's secular authorities because of his call for an Iranian-style Islamic revolution.

He lost the sight in one eye during the 2015 clashes in the northern city of Zaria, when troops illed more than 300 IMN supporters and buried them in mass graves.

Northern Nigeria is mainly Sunni Muslim, with Shia in the minority.

AFP

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