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UN Rights Experts Urge Nigeria To Immediately Release Humanist Accused Of Blasphemy

UN experts* have called on the Nigerian authorities to immediately release prominent humanist and rights defender Mubarak Bala, detained without charge on accusations of blasphemy, a potential capital offence.

“We are deeply concerned over the serious lack of due process in Mr. Bala’s case. He has reportedly not had access to a lawyer nor been allowed family visits and has been transferred and detained in Kano state, without charge, since his arrest in neighbouring Kaduna on 28 April 2020,” the human rights experts said.

President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, Bala has led human rights education campaigns to promote freedom of religion or belief and raise awareness about religious extremism via internet or social media platforms. His arrest followed a petition filed with Kano police on 27 April alleging he had insulted the Prophet Muhammad in Facebook posts. Bala has reportedly received death threats, including one threatening to burn down the police station where he is detained.

“The arrest and detention of Mr. Bala amounts to persecution of non-believers in Nigeria,” the UN experts said. “We are concerned that he may be prosecuted under anti-blasphemy laws that provide for capital punishment in Nigeria.”

The independent experts said the expression of opinion and beliefs, including what is seen to offend religious sensibilities, is protected by international law and should not be restricted. “The application of the death penalty for alleged ‘blasphemy’ is a flagrant violation of Nigeria’s international human rights law obligations.”

International law prohibits sanction against anyone for adopting, changing or not having any religion or belief, the experts said.

“We are also gravely concerned about Mr. Bala’s safety, while in detention, in light of the death threats against him, and further fear that he may be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment due to his atheistic beliefs.”

The experts recalled that in 2014 Bala was forcibly admitted to the psychiatric ward of Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital for 18 days after he had been assessed as needing psychiatric help for being an atheist.

“We deplore the use of psychiatric institutions for the detention and silencing of those with different opinions through medical diagnosis and isolation.”

The experts further noted that reports have indicated that the small community of non-religious people or non-believers in Nigeria constantly face harassment, discrimination, persecution and prohibitive social taboos.

The UN human rights experts said they were disappointed the Government had not responded to their urgent appeal sent in May.

“No one should be arbitrarily detained or arrested for expressing peacefully their opinion, thought and conscience or for simply being an atheist,” they said.

*The experts: Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Ms. Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Mr. José Guevara Bermúdez, Mr. Seong-Phil Hong, Mr. Sètondji Adjovi, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Ms. Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression; Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Mr. Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; and Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

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