UN Pressure Nigerian Government To Release Man Accused Of Insulting Prophet Muhammad
United Nations experts have called on Nigerian authorities to immediately release prominent humanist and rights defender, Mubarak Bala, detained without charge on accusations of blasphemy.
“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 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 the police in Kano on April 27 alleging that he had insulted 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,” they said.
International law prohibits sanction against anyone for adopting, changing or not having any religion or belief, the experts added.
They 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 that 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.