On the 27th of April, a group of lawyers in Kano state wrote to the Governor of Kano State, Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai, to demand the arrest of the President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, Mubarak Bala. His crime? Insulting Prophet Mohammed.
Days earlier on his Facebook page, Mubarak Bala had compared Prophet Muhammed to Prophet TB Joshua of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), saying the only difference was that the former was a terrorist.
The day after the petition signed by Salisu Umar was sent to Governor El-Rufai, police arrested Mr. Bala in Kaduna state. After he was arrested, the President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria was moved to the Gbabasawa police station in Kaduna.
Given the circumstances surrounding his arrest, it was feared that he would be transferred to Kano state to stand trial in a sharia court.
However, no one has set eyes on him since.
Last week, his wife Amina Ahmed wrote to the Senate asking that they at least give her proof that her husband is still alive.
According to her, Kano police has refused to let even Bala’s lawyers see him despite a court injunction ordering them to do so.
Mubarak Bala’s Arrest Has Caused a Lot of Concern From Secularist Organizations and the International Community.
The Humanist Association of Nigeria in a press release signed by Leo Igwe, the Chair of its Board of Trustees said, “All of us at the Humanist Association of Nigeria are deeply worried by the arrest and detention of our president, Mubarak Bala.
“Mubarak Bala will likely be handed over to the Kano state police command, which will prosecute him for blasphemy, a crime that carries a death sentence under sharia law.
“We urge the Inspector General of Police, the governor of Kaduna, Mallam Elrufai to ensure his immediate release.”
The International Association of Atheists, an organization where Mr. Bala is an advisory board member, also called for his immediate release.
As did the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom(USCIFR).
It stated “USCIRF is alarmed by this arrest, which appears to be for Mubarak Bala’s peaceful exercise of his rights to both freedoms of expression and freedom of belief. The fact that Kano State frequently enforces Shari’a law makes the situation particularly worrisome.
“Nigerian authorities must immediately clarify Mr. Bala’s situation, ensure his safety, and provide him the full protections he is guaranteed under the Nigerian Constitution and international law.”
The UK government took up the issue with Nigeria’s minister of foreign affairs.
Minister for Africa James Duddridge said, “We will continue to stress the importance of a transparent investigation that respects Mr. Bala’s human rights, the rule of law, and the Nigerian constitutional right to freedom of religion or belief.”
But still, Mubarak Bala’s whereabouts are unknown. He has not been charged with any crime. Neither his family nor lawyers have set eyes on him since late April when he was arrested.
Blasphemy Laws in Nigeria
It is befuddling that a petition sent to the Kano State Government regarding an insult on Facebook resulted in an arrest in Kaduna State.
His transfer to Kano State is especially worrying. Kano State’s legal system is especially brutal as it incorporates Sharia courts in its judicial system.
Kano State penal code criminalizes blasphemy.
Section 210 of the code stipulates that:
whoever by any means publicly insults or seeks to incite contempt of any religion in such a manner as to be likely to lead to a breach of the peace, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine, or both.
Kano is also one of the nine states in Nigeria that fully incorporates sharia in their judicial system. Under sharia courts, blasphemy is punishable with up to death.
Blasphemy is also prohibited federally by the criminal code.
Section 204 of the criminal code stipulates:
Any person who does an act which any class of persons consider as a public insult on their religion, with the intention that they should consider the act such an insult, and any person who does an unlawful act with the knowledge that any class of persons will consider it such an insult, is guilty of a misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for two years.
These laws are infrequently enforced and are used to marginalize adherents of less commonly practiced religions, especially in the predominantly Muslim North. It gives cover for mob action against individuals who criticize these religious precepts. Atheists and adherents of Traditional Religions are especially vulnerable as they have little national influence.
No major Christain or Muslim organization has come out against Mubarak Bala’s arrest. They claim to be for tolerance and coexistence of belief systems but their silence here is complicit.
Constitutionality of Blasphemy Laws
A more pertinent question is as to whether these laws are constitutional. The 1999 constitution is a flawed document but on the right to freedom of expression and belief, it is clear:
38. (1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance.
In light of this, the blasphemy laws in our legal books are unconstitutional. Lawmakers because of political expediency and disregard for constitutional stipulations, have failed to incorporate protections.
The very concept of blasphemy as a criminal offense presupposes the existence of a God. An action the constitution prohibits the government from.
10. The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion
To even recognize an act as blasphemous is to recognize God as described by that particular religion. And to give it special protection from criticism.
Free Mubarak Bala
It is a matter of justice that no one is forced to follow the stipulations of anyone else’s religion. The thing with Nigeria is that because religious bigotry is a useful tool of social control by the political elites, it is fueled by the powers that be.
The arrest has attracted a lot of hatred and death threats for Mubarak Bala. The Muslim clerics who have spoken about the case have done so in support of the arrest.
This sort of divisive action hampers social cohesion and scapegoats people for their non-conforming beliefs (or lack therefore).
No God needs humans to fight for them. And more importantly, no one should be held to the tenets of another individual’s belief.
The arrest of Mubarak Bala for saying words on his own social media page, words that do not advocate for or bring physical injury to any human being, is an egregious infringement on his rights, all for the comfort of people who themselves decided to read his opinions on his own Facebook
It is a negation of his right to freedom of thought and expression. The illegal actions of the Nigerian Police in what is basically a kidnapping for expressing anti-religious views is an outrage.
Blasphemy laws fundamentally limit societal freedoms.
It elevates religious precepts beyond reproach, an attitude that is inimical to societal progress. It is 2020. No one should suffer this sort of persecution for expressing their opinions on historical or religious figures.
All major religious organizations must speak up for his release, as must all political parties and civil society groups. It is a matter of basic human freedoms.