SHAFAQNA- Nigerian Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja has criticized the government for the “unjust” banning of the minority Shia group, warning that recent actions is a threat to religious freedom for all believers in the country.
Cardinal John Onaiyekan, the Archbishop of Abuja, said the actions against the country’s Shias is a worrying development.
“Nobody is safe — today it’s the Shias, tomorrow it could be us Catholics too,” Cardinal Onaiyekan told Vatican Radio.
He maintains that the Sunni majority in Nigeria “doesn’t want to recognize that the Shias are also Muslims, and because of this the government treats them with serious violence.”
There has been an official response by the Catholic Church but the cardinal expects it is soon to come “Personally my own position is that we cannot keep quiet and allow this kind of thing to keep going on.”
From my own understanding, the protests were always peaceful and we never saw them armed,” he said.
And yet, he said, government soldiers and police have attacked them with arms, rubber bullets and tear-gas canisters.
“I am not a Muslim but if I was a Muslim, I will also fight for the freedom of every Muslim because freedom of religion is not just freedom between two religions, there is also freedom within religions,” the cardinal said, according to Legit.ng, a Nigerian news portal.
“Their leader has been under detention against court orders, ordering that he be released, a court order that we have been told very bluntly that has been rejected by the executive,” the prelate continued, cruxnow told.
“I don’t know what would have happened if I was detained unjustly or even for any reason and the court orders my release and they refuse to allow it, I don’t know if anyone will be able to stop the Catholics from protesting,” Onaiyekan said.
On July 26, a Nigerian court banned the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), accusing it of “terrorism and illegality.”
Nigeria’s 182 million people are nearly evenly divided between Christians and Muslims; however, the vast majority of the Muslims are members of the Sunni branch of Islam.
Most of Nigeria’s 2-4 million Shias are followers of Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, the leader of the IMN.
IMN followers have been holding protests recently to demand the release of their leader Ibrahim Zakzaky who has been detained in prison for the past four years .
Various courts have ordered that Zakzaky be released but the government has refused to obey the courts’ order, Cardinal Onaiyekan said.
International media reports that at least 20 members of the group were killed over the past week during demonstrations.
Zakzaky’s followers have been protesting regularly since he was arrested.
So far, the Nigerian army has killed 347 IMN members in past clashes while suffering the loss of one soldier, la-croix reported.