NIGERIA | Nigerian Humanist Society President Sentenced to Prison

Source:                 www.cswusa.org

Date:                      April 6, 2022

 

 
 
4.6.2022
The president of the Nigerian Humanist Society, Mubarak Bala, was convicted on April 5 of 18 counts of causing a public disturbance under Sections 210 and 114 of the Kano State Penal Code and sentenced to 24 years in prison by a High Court in Kano state, Nigeria.
 
Bala has been detained since April 28, 2020 when he was arrested at his home in Kaduna state following a petition to the Kano State Police Commissioner by a law firm in Kano accusing him of insulting Islam in Facebook posts. He was transported to Kano state where he was held incommunicado for the first 162 days of his detention, was denied access to his legal team for five months, and spent 462 days in prison before being formally charged. 
 
According to his lawyer, while in prison Bala was denied medical care and forced to worship “the Islamic way.” In addition, a ruling by the Federal High Court in Abuja on Dec. 21, 2020 ordering Bala’s release on bail and compensation was disregarded.
 
In a statement issued on July 24, 2020, a group of UN experts described Bala’s arrest and detention as amounting to the “persecution of non-believers in Nigeria.”
 
During the hearing on April 5, Bala, 37, pled guilty to all 18 charges against the advice of his lawyer and reportedly asked for leniency, stating his Facebook posts were not intended to cause offense and that he would take care not to repeat the error. Nevertheless, the presiding judge, Justice Faruk Lawan, who reportedly warned Bala that his rights ended where those of others began, handed down the 24-year sentence, ordering the term would commence from the day he was arrested, and that the sentences for all 18 charges should run concurrently.
 
Bala’s sentence has been widely condemned. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which has adopted Bala as a religious prisoner of conscience, declared it was “outraged” by the sentence, adding that Bala “should not have been charged or convicted in the first place for simply expressing his freedom of belief and expression.”
 
Describing the trial as a “judicial charade,” Dr. Leo Igwe, a human rights campaigner and a board member of Humanists International, said the sentence was “a stark violation of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief.” Dr. Igwe also asserted that Bala “was under pressure to admit he was guilty, and that otherwise he could die in prison. It was impressed on him by authorities in Kano that the only way his family could be safe was if he admitted that he was guilty, so even against legal advice he decided to agree and face the consequences.”
 
This is the second time Bala has been detained on account of his belief. In June 2014, he was allegedly assaulted, then forcibly committed to the psychiatric ward of the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital in his home state of Kano for 18 days by members of his family after renouncing Islam.
 
CSW's Founder President Mervyn Thomas said, “Since his arrest in 2020 Mr. Bala’s rights have been violated comprehensively. He has endured lengthy periods of arbitrary and pre-trial detention, and has had limited access to his wife, young son, and legal counsel. He has now received a sentence which is disproportionate to the alleged crime, and constitutes a gross violation of his right to the freedoms of expression, thought, conscience, and belief. A grave injustice has occurred. CSW calls for the urgent review of this excessively punitive sentence, and of Nigeria’s blasphemy legislation, which ought to be repealed. Blasphemy accusations are highly subjective, creating inconsistencies in the application of the law. They also foster and sustain extreme religious sentiment, and are wholly incompatible with Nigeria’s obligations under international law.”
 

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