Prominent figure has been detained since April 2020 without charge and is accused of blasphemy

By Emmanuel Akinwotu

The Guardian (28.04.2021) – – The United Nations has condemned Nigerian authorities for failing to release a prominent humanist accused of blasphemy, who has been detained for a year without charge.

Mubarak Bala, the president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was arrested at his home in Kaduna state on 28 April 2020 and taken to neighbouring Kano, where calls for action against him had been made by religious figures.

In the weeks before, he had posted comments critical of Islam on Facebook that caused outrage among conservative groups in the mostly Muslim north of Nigeria.

For months the 37-year-old was denied contact with his lawyer or family and his whereabouts unknown before he was granted access, and a high court order for his release on bail has been ignored by Nigerian authorities. His case has been seen as an example of a clampdown on voices judged to be critical of religious orthodoxy, in a deeply conservative region.

A group of seven UN human rights experts on Wednesday condemned Nigerian authorities for a “flagrant violation of fundamental human rights.”

“Today marks one year since Mr Bala was arrested and detained in Kano state, without any formal charges, on allegations of blasphemy. His arbitrary detention has continued despite our appeals to the government in May and July last year,” they said, with the case causing “a chilling effect on the exercise of fundamental freedoms in Nigeria.”

“Through his continued detention, the government is sending the wrong signal to extremist groups that the silencing and intimidation of human rights defenders and minority non-believers is acceptable,” they added.

Last December, Nigeria’s high court ruled that Bala’s detention went against his rights to personal freedom, fair hearing, freedom of thought, expression, ordering his release on bail and damages of 250,000 Naira ($657). Yet authorities have continued to detain Bala.

“The government must take action to ensure that the responsible authorities respect the due process and enforce the judicial ruling,” the UN experts further said.

Bala, the son of a widely regarded Islamic scholar, has been an outspoken religious critic in a staunchly conservative region, where open religious dissent is uncommon. After renouncing Islam in 2014, he was forcibly committed to a psychiatric facility by his family in Kano before being discharged.

After Bala posted comments critical of Islam and religion on his Facebook profile last April, he received a surge of online accusations of blasphemy and threats.

A lawyer for Bala, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Guardian that police were able to detain Bala on “a holding charge” often used in arbitrary detentions, where formal charges are not presented.

“We are have filed another bail application in Abuja, in the high court,” he said but a judicial strike in the country had delayed proceedings.

Last year his wife, Amina Mubarak, described the toll of her ordeal while caring for their one-year-old child. “It is unbearable, going through this psychological and emotional trauma right now. I’ve tried all I can,” she said.

Photo : Handout