The United Nations has condemned the Nigerian authorities for failing to release a prominent humanist accused of blasphemy, who has been detained without charge for a year.
Mubarak Bala, president of the Nigerian Humanist Association, was arrested at his home in Kaduna state on April 28, 2020 and taken to neighboring Kano, where religious figures had called for action against him.
In the previous weeks, he had posted comments critical of Islam on Facebook that sparked outrage among conservative groups in the largely Muslim north of Nigeria.
For months, the 37-year-old was denied contact with his lawyer or family and his whereabouts were unknown before he was granted access, and the Nigerian authorities have ignored a higher court order for his release on bail. His case has been seen as an example of repression of voices considered 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 formal charges, on charges of blasphemy. His arbitrary detention has continued despite our appeals to the government in May and July last year, ”they said, and the case had“ a chilling effect on the exercise of fundamental freedoms in Nigeria ”.
“Through their continued detention, the government is sending the wrong signal to extremist groups that the silencing and intimidation of human rights defenders and non-believing minorities is acceptable,” they added.
Last December, the Nigerian high court ruled that Bala’s arrest was against his rights to personal liberty, fair hearing, freedom of thought and expression, and ordered his release on bail and compensation of 250,000 naira ( 657 dollars). However, the authorities have continued to detain Bala.
“The government must take steps to ensure that the responsible authorities respect due process and enforce the judicial sentence,” the UN experts also said.
Bala, the son of a widely regarded Islamic scholar, has been an outspoken religious critic in a staunchly conservative region, where outright religious dissent is rare. 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 wave of accusations online of blasphemy and threats.
An attorney for Bala, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Guardian that the police were able to detain Bala on a “retention charge” that is often used in arbitrary arrests, where no formal charges are brought.
“We have submitted another request for bail in Abuja, in the high court,” he said, but a judicial strike in the country delayed the proceedings.
Last year, his wife, Amina Mubarak, described the cost of her ordeal while caring for their one-year-old son. “It is unbearable to go through this psychological and emotional trauma right now. I’ve tried everything I can, ”he said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism