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Nigerian atheist charged with ‘blasphemy’ 17 months after his arrest

Nigerian atheist charged with ‘blasphemy’ 17 months after his arrest August 10, 2021

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DEAF to international outrage over the arrest of Bala, 37 – President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria – the authorities have formally charged him with an array of offences, including one for “blasphemy”, which under Kano state law is punishable by up to two years in prison.

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of the UK-based National Secular Society said the charges, arising out off Bala’s Facebook posts which allegedly contained “blasphemous”  and anti-Islamic content, said ten charges  brought against the humanist  were:

A blatant violation of Mubarak Bala’s fundamental right to freedom of expression. Blasphemy should never be a crime, and Mubarak Bala should be released, and his safety and rights secured, immediately and unconditionally.

We again join calls for the Nigerian authorities to release Mubarak Bala, and for governments around the world to unite in demanding his release.

Last month, Nigerian newspaper The Nation added its voice to those demanding Bala’s immediate release, calling his detention “unlawful.”

It pointed out that the High Court in Abuja ruled in December 2020 that his detention violated his rights to personal freedom, fair hearing, and freedom of thought and expression and awarded him N250,000 (around $600) in damages.

The court also ordered his immediate release, an order, according to Humanists International, that was disregarded.

HI reported that on July 14, a second hearing of Bala’s fundamental rights petition was held. The case was adjourned following the failure of respondents to appear in court. The case was  subsequently postponed until July 22, but now his next hearing is expected to take place in September.

HI also reported that comments on Bala’s Facebook page called for his killing.

Further, individuals have threatened to burn down the police station in which he is being held and kill him were he to set foot in Kano.

Among those threatening to kill him is a sergeant attached to Bauchi State Police Command. According to Sahara Reporters, the sergeant in question is ‘notorious for using a fake named – Datti Assalafiy – on Facebook to spread hatred and religious bigotry – where he encourages his over 160,000 followers to execute Christians and others, who don’t share in their extreme ideas.’

On 26 April 2020, a Change.org petition calling for Bala’s Facebook account to be closed garnered over 17,000 signatures. The petition was subsequently taken down by Change.org.

Bala was arrested last April after a group of lawyers accused him of posting comments on Facebook that were “provocative and annoying to Muslims.”

The Islamic system of justice, Sharia, operates in 12 Muslim-majority states in the northern part of the country alongside a secular justice system. A lawyer fighting for his release was quoted as saying the police had detained him on “a holding charge” usually employed to detain detainees without presenting formal charges against them.

In its editorial, The Nation said:

It is unjustifiable that the authorities disregarded the court ruling. By disobeying the court, the authorities ironically demonstrated contempt for the rule of law. The campaign for Bala’s release from unlawful detention has been ignored by the authorities, which suggests undemocratic governance.

This is a case of abuse of power that has attracted the attention of international observers.  Notably, a group of seven UN human rights experts issued a statement in April, condemning the ‘flagrant violation’ of his ‘fundamental human rights.’  They also drew attention to their efforts to get him released.  His wife, Amina, has described her ‘psychological and emotional trauma’ as ‘unbearable.  They have a toddler.

When Bala first declared his apostacy, members of his  Muslim family believed he was mentally ill committed him to a psychiatric hospital in 2014.

The Nation said:

He is a vocal atheist, and his rejection of religion is offensive to many people in the country’s Muslim-dominated northern region.

Campaigners for his freedom regard him as a Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) Victim. There is no question that his arrest and detention violate some of his fundamental rights under the country’s secular constitution, which is supreme.

Bala’s unlawful detention is condemnable. Being an unbeliever shouldn’t make him open to abuse of power based on the religious beliefs of those in power. He should be freed immediately and unconditionally.

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