Today marks one year since President of the Nigerian Humanist Association, Mubarak Bala, was arrested, accused of being ‘provocative and annoying to Muslims’ on Facebook. He is currently being arbitrarily detained in Kano State, a region that allows for the operation of Sharia courts alongside secular courts, where riots and murder are not uncommon for accusations of blasphemy, and where blasphemy carries the death penalty.
In support of Humanists International’s campaign to secure his safety and freedom, Humanists UK, many of its patrons, and members of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) have signed an open letter calling for his immediate and unconditional release. Signatories among many others include Humanists UK President Alice Roberts; Vice Presidents Jim Al-Khalili, Polly Toynbee, and AC Grayling; patrons Stephen Fry, Wole Soyinka, and Richard Dawkins; and APPHG members Crispin Blunt MP, Joan Bakewell, and Alf Dubs. It is being released just as the UK Government’s Africa Minister, James Duddridge MP, is on a diplomatic visit to Nigeria, meeting with his Nigerian opposites and discussing human rights.
The letter has more generally been signed by almost 90 organisations and individuals from across the world, and addressed to the Governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje. It states signatories’ ‘deep concern regarding the ongoing detention of Mubarak Bala’ which has been ‘marked by a lack of due process’:
‘To our knowledge, even 365 days after his initial arrest Mr Bala has yet to be charged with a crime. It is worth noting that the Honourable Justice I. E. Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja ruled Mr Bala’s continuous incarceration to be illegal and ordered his immediate release on bail.
‘The undersigned organisations fear that Mr Bala is being targeted solely for his exercise of his rights of freedom of belief and freedom of expression, as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution and international and regional instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory.
‘We urge you to uphold your duty to respect fundamental freedoms and to release Mubarak Bala immediately without conditions.’
In October 2020, Bala was finally granted access to his legal team, more than five months after his initial arrest. In December, a judge at the High Court in Abuja, Nigeria, ruled that he should be immediately released on bail after finding that his continuous incarceration without charge violated his fundamental rights guaranteed under the Nigerian Constitution.
On 1 March, the Federal High Court in Abuja presided over the first hearing related to Bala’s lawyer’s petition challenging the competence of Kano State to bring charges against their client. The court was adjourned until a later date.
Chief Executive of Humanists UK Andrew Copson said:
‘The treatment of Mubarak starkly illustrates how the global prevalence of blasphemy laws threatens the rights and safety of millions across the world. Time and time again, those responsible for his unlawful detention have shown complete disregard for his fundamental human rights as guaranteed under the Nigerian Constitution. Mubarak should be released immediately and unconditionally, and his safety guaranteed.’
For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.
Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.