Judge throws out rioting charges against Shiites

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A judge in Abuja on Wednesday dismissed charges against 35 Shiite Muslims who were among hundreds of people arrested after deadly protests in the Nigerian capital.

A total of 120 members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) were charged with “rioting, disturbance of public peace and causing hurt” on the outskirts of Abuja in October.

There have been frequent clashes between the security forces and the IMN in recent years, whose leader Ibrahim Zakzaky wants an Iranian-style Islamic revolution in secular Nigeria.

The 120 defendants appeared in groups of up to 35 in different courtrooms at a central Abuja magistrates court, according to an AFP reporter.

In one courtroom, magistrate Musa Ibrahim said defence lawyers had applied for the case to be struck out against 35 defendants because state prosecutors had not turned up.

“In the absence of the prosecution, the defendants are hereby discharged,” he told the court.

The remaining defendants, who have all pleaded not guilty, were given conditional bail to reappear at further hearings in the coming days.

Police and the military have been accused of heavy handed tactics in response to the IMN protests calling for the release of Zakzaky from custody.

He has been held since a military crackdown on his supporters in the northern city of Zaria in December 2015 in which troops killed more than 300 and buried them in mass graves.

In early November, the Nigerian army triggered outrage after using a video of US President Donald Trump saying soldiers would shoot migrants throwing stones to justify opening fire on the Shiite protesters in Abuja.

The tweet was later taken down. The military says six people were killed when it fired live bullets at the protesters but human rights groups and the IMN say more than 45 died.

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