NIGERIA: UN experts demand release of Yahaya Sharif-Aminu imprisoned for WhatsApp messages

Sharif-Aminu was sentenced to death by hanging for sharing allegedly “blasphemous” song lyrics on WhatsApp

ADF International (17.05.2024) – Experts from the United Nations have called for the immediate and unconditional release of Yahaya-Sharif Aminu. Sharif-Aminu was sentenced to death by hanging in 2020 for sharing allegedly “blasphemous” song lyrics on WhatsApp about the prophet Mohammed.

Sharif-Aminu’s case, pending before the Supreme Court of Nigeria, challenges the Sharia-based blasphemy law of Kano State, Nigeria.

Sharif-Aminu remains in prison awaiting his appeal to the Supreme Court, which was filed with the support of ADF International in November 2022.

In addition to calling for Sharif-Aminu’s immediate release, the UN experts expressed their concern that, “Mr. Sharif-Aminu has been in prison for too long for exercising his human rights,” and they urge the Supreme Court of Nigeria to “consider Mr. Sharif-Aminu’s case as a priority, and to urgently adopt a decision taking into consideration Nigeria’s obligations under international human rights law”. The experts called on the government to promptly review Sharif-Aminu’s case, guarantee the protection of his human rights, and ensure his well-being.

“We are grateful to advocates of religious freedom, freedom of expression, and other important human rights across the globe, including at the United Nations, who are speaking out on Yahaya’s behalf,” said Sean Nelson, legal counsel for ADF International. “While the international community demands action, Yahaya continues to languish in prison awaiting a hearing at the Supreme Court of Nigeria.”

Nelson continued, stating: “Now is the time for Nigerian officials to heed the urgings of world leaders, immediately release Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, and get rid of these egregious blasphemy laws that violate the basic human rights of their citizens. No person should be punished, prosecuted, or threatened with death for their peaceful expression and their faith. The time to act is now.” 

“As long as religious minorities are imprisoned for mere peaceful expression, religious freedom is imperiled in Nigeria,” stated Kola Alapinni, international human rights lawyer and legal counsel for Yahaya Sharif-Aminu in partnership with ADF International. “I am thankful to the UN experts for speaking out on Yahaya’s behalf, and I implore all who are able to keep up the global pressure for advancing our human rights in Nigeria. It is my hope that in a positive step forward, the Supreme Court will hear Yahaya’s case and eliminate these oppressive blasphemy laws that hinder our rights to speak and live freely.”   More information about Yahaya Sharif-Aminu’s case is available here.

Religious persecution in Nigeria 

The persecution of minority religion adherents, including Christians and minority Muslims, in Nigeria is especially severe. More Christians are killed for their faith in Nigeria than any other country on earth. Recent reports show over 7,000 Christians were killed for their faith last year, with at least 200 Christians murdered by militants in Plateau State, Nigeria, this past Christmas.


The US Commission on International Religious Freedom recently recommended that Nigeria be placed on the US’s CPC list, highlighting Yahaya Sharif-Aminu’s blasphemy case.


Earlier this year, members of the US Congress voted to move forward with a resolution calling for greater US action in response to the religious freedom crisis in Nigeria. The House resolution, which can be read in full here, calls on the US Secretary of State to designate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) on their list of worst religious freedom offenders for “engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom,” while also highlighting religious prisoners of conscience and the egregious blasphemy laws in Nigeria.   


Earlier this year, both members of the US House of Representatives and US Senate moved forward with resolutions that condemn the prevalent violations of religious freedom in Nigeria, and call for greater intervention from the US government, including to “leverage all diplomatic and sanctions tools available to the United States Government to hold religious freedom violators accountable for their actions”.


Members of the UK Parliament also condemned Sharif-Aminu’s sentence and imprisonment, stating “The UK Government opposes the death penalty in all circumstances. We will continue to raise Mr. Sharif-Aminu’s case as he appeals his sentence.” The Parliament went on to convey their support for Sharif-Aminu, and their support for freedom of religion and belief for all in Nigeria.

Further reading about FORB in Nigeria on HRWF website