Human rights campaigners on Wednesday accused Nigeria ’ s security forces of killing dozens by using “ horrific” force during a crackdown on protesting supporters of an imprisoned Shiite cleric.
Amnesty International said it had “ strong evidence ” that police and soldiers used automatic weapons against members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria ( IMN ) at marches in and around Abuja.
The group said upwards of 45 people were killed — six on Saturday and at least 39 on Monday , when some 122 were also injured .
The IMN itself said it had counted 49 dead. The military ’ s official death toll is six .
“ We have seen a shocking and unconscionable use of deadly force by soldiers and police against IMN members, ” said Amnesty ’ s Nigeria director , Osai Ojigho.
“ Video footage and eyewitness testimonies consistently show that the Nigerian military dispersed peaceful gatherings by firing live ammunition without warning, ” she added .
“ Those injured were shot in different parts of the body — head , neck , back , chest , shoulder , legs, arms — and some of them had multiple gunshot wounds . ”
Ojigho said the “ horrific use of excessive force ” was not crowd control but aimed to kill, calling for an independent probe and the prosecution of those responsible .
– ‘Wronged and oppressed ’ –
In Mararaba village , in Nasarawa state 30 kilometres ( nearly 20 miles) from central Abuja , mourners gathered in preparation for the burial of 20 victims .
AFP reporters counted the white – shrouded bodies, as IMN members and tearful family members of the deceased gathered to pay their final respects.
“ These are the victims the Nigerian Army attacked on Monday at Kugbo security check point on our way to Abuja, ” said IMN member Abdullahi Mohammad Musa .
The group ’ s spokesman , Ibrahim Musa , said separately that another burial for six people was held in the northern city of Zaria .
“ We are feeling bad , we are feeling wronged , we are oppressed, ” he added .
Nigeria , Africa ’ s largest economy , is almost evenly split between a mostly Muslim north — which is predominantly Sunni — and a largely Christian south.
Experts have warned the government that a heavy- handed response to the group risks sparking conflict in a volatile region where poverty is widespread .
The December 2015 clashes that led to Zakzaky ’ s detention saw the army kill more than 300 of his supporters , who were buried in mass graves , according to human rights groups .
Amnesty said it appeared a similar strategy appeared to have been employed against the IMN in the latest protests .
The clashes and the military ’ s use of deadly force against civilians have raised fears that the IMN could become radicalised in the same way as the Islamist group Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria , who were subject to a crackdown in 2009 .
The military offensive against the jihadist group is widely accepted as the catalyst for it to take up arms against the government.
In the last nine years , more than 27 , 000 people have been killed and some two million displaced , while the fighting has triggered a humanitarian crisis in Nigeria ’ s remote northeast .
– Self – defence –
Conflicting death tolls are not unusual in Nigeria and the authorities often play down casualty figures .
Nigeria ’ s army said troops fired on IMN in self -defence .
“ They met the soldiers in the call of their duty and the soldiers tried to defend themselves , ” said defence spokesman John Agim .
On Saturday , the military fired at the IMN procession and accused them of attempting to steal weapons and ammunition , an account the IMN “ categorically ” denies.
Two days later, IMN and troops clashed again on the outskirts of Abuja .
On Tuesday , Nigerian police fired shots and tear gas at the supporters during another march and arrested 400 IMN members.
Zakzaky is currently facing a culpable homicide charge in connection with the 2015 violence and is in jail despite a court order granting him bail .
The Shiite leader , who is in his mid -sixties , has been at loggerheads with the authorities for years because of his call for an Iranian- style Islamic revolution in Nigeria .
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