Back in April of 2020, Nigerian police arrested Mubarak Bala (below), President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, for “blasphemy” after he allegedly posted criticism of Islam on his Facebook page.
For much of the past year, there was genuine fear that Bala would be handed over to authorities in the state of Kano, which is run under Sharia law, which means his alleged blasphemy could be punishable by death. It was unclear if he had access to a lawyer. It was unclear what he had been charged with. It was unclear if he was even alive.
But in October, Bala finally got access to a lawyer (of his choosing). A hearing was scheduled in April, but a strike by Nigerian judiciary staffers led to a paralysis of the courts until the strike ended in June.
On Tuesday, Bala finally had his day in court. He wasn’t physically present, but there were finally formal charges levied against him by the Kano State High Court. (Why is that good news? Instead of holding him indefinitely for no reason, they were explaining, in writing, what he did that was allegedly wrong.)
According to the charge sheet filed before the Kano State High Court, seen by Humanists International, Bala faces 10 counts of causing a public disturbance in connection to Facebook posts he is alleged to have made over the course of April 2020, which are deemed to have caused a public disturbance due to their “blasphemous” content.
For that, Bala was detained for over a year and denied access to lawyers for several months. The fact that this trial is still happening in Kano State is also a major concern:
Kano State is one of 12 states in Northern Nigeria to operate parallel legal systems — customary law, applicable across the Federation of Nigeria as well as Sharia law, which may be enforced on Muslims. Under customary law, “blasphemy” is classed as a misdemeanor punishable by up to two years in prison; under Sharia law, the penalty is death. As a humanist, Sharia law may not be imposed upon Bala.
Humanists International is calling for Bala’s trial to be moved to more neutral territory.
The American Humanist Association is also denouncing the charges, saying they’re invalid at their core:
“Every day that Bala remains detained will add to his personal health and safety risks,” AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt commented. “His human rights have been denied throughout this process, giving us good reason to question his chances for a fair trial in Kano State.”
“The AHA joins the international humanist community to call for the transfer of Bala to neutral territory and demand that he is given the fair trial he is entitled to. Bala shouldn’t be unduly punished for the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of religion,” Speckhardt concluded.
As the saying goes, blasphemy is a victimless crime. No one deserves this. Bala should be set free.
(Large portions of this article were published earlier)