The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) calls on the authorities in Kaduna State, Nigeria to release activist Mubarak Bala and drop the obnoxious blasphemy charges against him.
Bala, who is the President of a civil society group, the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was arrested by the police at his home in Kaduna on April 28, 2020. The arrest was made a day after a group of lawyers in Kano State petitioned the Commissioner of Police in the State, accusing the activist of insulting Prophet Muhammad on his Facebook page.
“The said Mubarak was born and raised as a Muslim but for his own personal reason decided to leave Islam for atheism sometime in 2014 and has since then been writing stuffs on his Facebook page that are provocative and annoying to the Muslims,” the petition reads.
Bala’s Facebook posts of March 25, 2020 angered many people in the highly conservative majority Muslim population of Northern Nigeria, where Sharia is widely applied. Consequently, the publications were greeted with threats in the comments section resulting to his arrest two days later.The online newspaper, Guardian.ng quoted a Kaduna Police spokesperson, Mohammed Jalige to have confirmed in a phone conversation that Bala “is in police custody.”
“I cannot tell you about where he is (whether Kaduna or Kano State custody) but he has been arrested.” Jalinge is quoted to have said.
Leo Igwe, the chairman of the board of trustees of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, an NGO of which Mubarak is president, expressed concerns over his safety.
“Mubarak Bala will likely be handed over to the Kano State Police Command that will prosecute him for blasphemy, a crime that carries a death sentence under sharia law.
The International Association of Atheist has launched a petition for Bala’s release and to raise funds for his legal defense.
The MFWA is deeply concerned about the fate of Bala which revives chilling memories of the ordeal of the Mauritanian blogger, Mohamed Ould Mkhaitir, who was sentenced to death for blasphemy and apostasy in 2014. The activist ended up spending almost four years in detention, even though aCourt of Appeal had commuted his sentence to two years’ imprisonment.
The MFWA considers anti-blasphemy and anti-apostasy laws as minefields on the human rights landscape of any country that has them on their statutes. They are often too broadly and vaguely worded and applied discriminately against minorities. They can dissuade free expression of dissenting religious beliefs and restrain critical appraisal of belief systems or open intellectual discussion on matters of faith.
We therefore urge the governor of Kaduna, Mallam Nasir El Rufai, and the Inspector of Nigeria’s police to ensure the immediate release of Bala Mubarak and ensure his safety. We also call on Nigeria to take steps to scrap its blasphemy laws and not to succumb to extremist clamour to persecute dissenting religious opinions.