The Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) has written to the Nigerian president demanding that he ensures the protection of worshippers planning to embark on the annual 40th day commemorations of Ashura later this month.
The letter follows credible reports that the military plans to sabotage Arbaeen processions (as they are known) in a continuation of its persecution of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria which organises the events.
The plans include attacking processions, burning homes and business premises of the participants while they are away, and hiring thugs to assault mourners as they make their way to the gatherings. There are also reports that hospitals have been instructed not to take victims of the planned violence and that a hit list of prominent members of the IMN has also been drawn up apparently earmarked for assassination.
The letter reminds President Buhari of the bloody history of violence against supporters of the IMN who will be participating in these events. A massacre in December 2015 led to over 1000 people, mainly IMN members and supporters, being killed in an unprovoked pre-planned attack by the armed forces.
In that attack IMN symbols, buildings, graves and leading figures were targeted. Individuals were subjected to sexual violence, many were shot, burnt alive, or hacked to death by the Army. Leading members of the movement were shot and imprisoned without charge. The leader of the IMN, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky remains imprisoned to this day without charge, in flagrant violation of domestic and international law.
It is worth remembering that in the five years since the Arbaeen processions started the participants have never once resorted to violence. Even when last year Boko Haram targeted mourners with a bomb in Kano that resulted in the deaths of 32 people the participants refused to be provoked.
These reports of potential sabotage must also be seen in the context of the wider campaign of persecution of the IMN by the Nigerian authorities which seeks to prevent the movement and its supporters from exercising their rights to freedom of worship, movement, association and expression.
The letter concludes: “IHRC calls on you to do your utmost to rein in the military and anyone else involved in these nefarious plans, uphold the rights of the participants and ensure their total protection. Having apprised you of the situation we will hold you personally responsible for any harm that may be inflicted on the persons and properties of Arbaeen mourners.”