NIGERIA: Trial against Christian mother for alleged blasphemy will continue
- Nigerian court has refused to dismiss the prosecutors’ case in trial against Rhoda Jatau, whose defence is supported by ADF International.
- Jatau, a Christian and mother of 5, remains imprisoned for allegedly sharing a blasphemous video that condemned the lynching of Christian college student Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu.
ADF (29.11.2023) – On Monday, a judge in Bauchi State, Nigeria, refused to dismiss prosecutors’ case in their trial against Rhoda Jatau. Jatau, a Christian and mother of five, has been imprisoned since May 2022 for allegedly sharing a video on WhatsApp condemning the lynching of Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu, a Nigerian university student who was murdered and set on fire by a mob of her classmates in May 2022 for sharing her Christian faith. ADF International is supporting Jatau’s defence.
Jatau’s lawyers had filed a “no case submission” after the prosecution had rested based on serious evidentiary issues. Jatau’s lawyers raised significant legal lapses in the prosecution’s case and argued that they had not established the basic elements of their case against Rhoda.
From the time of her arrest, Jatau repeatedly has been denied bail and detained incommunicado, only having intermittent access to legal counsel and family members during court appearances.
“No one should be prosecuted for peaceful expression or for their religion. The continuing prosecution and detention of Rhoda Jatau is a travesty of justice,” stated Sean Nelson, legal counsel for ADF International. “Time and time again, the prosecution has failed to present even the barest evidence against Rhoda. While we are disappointed in the court’s ruling in a case that should never have been brought, we will continue to seek justice and freedom for Rhoda and all who suffer persecution in Nigeria.”
Lead counsel for Rhoda Jatau’s case and ADF International allied lawyer, said: “I am disappointed with the ruling, but we will prepare for her defence. Rhoda and her family have suffered needlessly for over a year and a half. I implore all who are able to continue to pray for her swift and safe release.”
The decision to continue with the prosecution follows a joint allegation letter sent by United Nations experts to the Nigerian government, in response to appeals from ADF International and other religious freedom advocacy organizations, highlighting the danger of blasphemy laws as a violation of international human rights, and calling attention to Yakubu and Jatau’s cases.
Jatau’s trial is scheduled to resume on 19 December. Jatau faces up to 5 years imprisonment if convicted of the charges against her.
Nigeria’s Persecution of Christians
The cases of Rhoda Jatau and Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu are but two examples of the widespread violence against religious minorities, including Christians in Northern Nigeria, prevalent in Nigeria today.
Together with other religious minorities in Nigeria, the persecution of Christians in Nigeria is especially severe. Worldwide, over 5,500 Christians were killed for their faith last year. Of those, 90% were Nigerian.
The criminalisation of blasphemy in Nigeria carries with it dangerous implications for the country as a whole. In a country of more than 200 million, split nearly evenly between Christians and Muslims, blasphemy laws are a significant driver of societal tensions. These laws punish the innocent for expressing their beliefs, silence people from sharing their faith, and perpetuate societal violence. Blasphemy laws throughout Nigeria encourage brutal mob violence and inflict severe harm on minority Muslims, Christian converts, and others.
ADF International also is supporting the legal defence of Nigerian musician Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, a Sufi Muslim who was sentenced to death by hanging for sharing song lyrics that were deemed “blasphemous” on WhatsApp. With the support of ADF International, Yahaya is appealing his case to the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the hopes of overturning the death penalty blasphemy laws in Nigeria. Yahaya remains in prison awaiting his appeal. Yahaya has been imprisoned for over three and a half years.
HRWF Footnote: FORB Prisoners Database
Muslims – Sufis (3)
Photo Source: ADF International