Soyinka: Nigeria is ‘& lsquo; not a nation however a cage if we put behind bars people for their spiritual views’& rsquo;

Professor Wole Soyinka, speaking to The Africa Report, describes the sentence as a mockery of justice and contacts human rights organisations to introduce a campaign against the advancement.

The Nobel Laureate says the incident became part of the disadvantages of the Sharia law being practised in the north, adding that the principle of blasphemy ought not to exist in a nation like Nigeria which claims to be secular.

" I understand that the matter will be appealed, which is great, but I believe beyond the judicial procedure, civil society organisations should rise to the occassion and insist that Nigeria is a secular nation and has no identified religious beliefs. We are not residing in a nation but a cage if we put behind bars people for their spiritual views" he adds.

Nigeria is presently at war, fighting terrorists in the northeast and the northwest that have actually killed millions and left others displaced. Having actually been overwhelmed, the authorities in the last few years presented a controversial amnesty programme for terrorists who lay down their arms.

While terrorists who surrender escape prosecution and are provided a government stipend, atheists and blasphemers in northern Nigeria are not so fortunate. If they are not lynched by an angry mob or sentenced to death by a court, they get long jail sentences. This is the story of Mubarak Bala.

Bala, who is the President, Humanist Society of Nigeria, has actually paid a stiff charge for his atheist views. In 2014, when he initially publicly renounced Islam, he was confined to the psychiatric ward of Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital by his pious family for about 2 weeks before he was released following pressure from rights groups.

He ultimately decided to leave Kano-- one of the most volatile states in the country-- and moved to Abuja, the nation's capital that is more liberal than the other areas of the north where Sharia law is practised and religiously imposed.

In Abuja, he was accepted by the atheist society and soon ended up being the President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria and got wed. He had an active Facebook page on which he insulted religious figures consisting of Jesus Christ and the Prophet Mohammed. His pages were filled with death risks and he was alerted never to set foot in the Muslim north as he would pay dearly for it.

Journey of no return In April 2020, when his spouse had actually just brought to life their very first kid, Bala got wind of the government's strategy to announce a lockdown in Abuja due to the increasing cases of Covid-19 and then chose to quickly check out Kaduna State for an event and assured to return quickly.

" Mubarak and I are based in Abuja. I had actually simply brought to life a child kid previously in the year through C-section and I hadn't completely recovered when he chose to travel to Kaduna. We spoke on the early morning of April 28. He stated he couldn't return because of the lockdown however promised to come back immediately after the lockdown," his other half, Amina Ahmed, recalled.

But when a Kano-based legal representative, Salisu Umar, got information that Bala was in neighbouring Kaduna State, he swiftly composed a petition to the police, demanding his arrest for making inciting comments about Prophet Mohammed; behaviour Umar claimed had breach peace in Kano State.

The petition was handled with unusual speed by Nigerian authorities.

" I wrote the petition because I thought Bala's behaviour could breach public peace. And although he remained in Abuja when he made those postings on Facebook, Nigerian cyber criminal activity law gives outright jurisdiction to all states to prosecute anyone who causes trouble on social networks," Umar tells The Africa Report.

On getting the petition, the cops in Kano State quickly called Kaduna State, requesting Bala's arrest. His recovering spouse remembers that she understood the worst had actually happened.

" When I heard he had actually been moved to Kano, I began to fear the worst because Kano has very rigorous Sharia laws," his other half remembered.

Prolonged detention After he was whisked away to Kano State, Bala invested months in cops detention and was rejected access to his spouse and his lawyer. This triggered activists consisting of Wole Soyinka, to require Bala's release.

A tribute composed by Soyinka to Bala check out in part, "As a kid I remember residing in a state of harmonious coexistence all but forgotten in the Nigeria of today, as the afflict of spiritual extremism has encroached. We both have actually looked for to challenge the ascendancy of spiritual jingoism.

" As a human rights activist, you have looked for to promote liberty of belief and expression and grown to function as President of the worthy organization that is the Humanist Association of Nigeria." In a bid to legalise his detention, the authorities initially submitted an info report prior to a magistrate court, accusing Bala of breaching the Cyber Crime Act.

One of the charges read: "Racist and Xenophobic offence contrary to Section 26( 1 )( C) of Cyber Crime Prohibition Act 2015. That you, Mubarak Bala, '35 years of ages' did in some cases in April 2020, by means of a Facebook post, characterise Prophet Mohammed, his religious beliefs, Islam, and his Muslim followers as terrorists and posted exact same in your Facebook page named Mubarak Bala."" Your action is declared to have contravened the above sections and for that reason arraigned prior to the honourable court." After months in detention, Bala was transferred to jail custody and was positioned in solitary confinement to prevent him from being attacked by other inmates.

His attorney, James Ibor, subsequently submitted a human rights suit before Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja seeking his instant release from detention. The relief was granted and the court ordered Bala's immediate release but the order was never ever complied with. The cops arraigned him before a Kano State High Court which rejected him bail although it was not a capital offence.

Guilty as charged At the resumed hearing on 5 April 2022, Bala, without the consent of his lawyer, informed the court that he would be changing his plea to guilty. He was instantly sentenced to 24 years in prison.

However his legal representative tells The Africa Report that he sensed his client was fed up and might no longer stand up to the rigours of trial. Ibor includes that Bala and his family had actually been receiving constant threats and this may simply have been a way for him to end everything.

The legal representative, nevertheless, expressed shock over the long sentence, insisting that the offense ought not to have actually been more than five years based upon the statute books of Kano.

" The court out of malice enforced an absurd sentence. By the Kano State chastening code, the maximum penalty for among the charges is three years in prison while the other is two. So, the optimum he should spend in prison is 5 years and having actually spent two years currently, it should have been 3 years more so provided the fact that he pleaded guilty.

" Under the Kano State sentencing guideline, it is unthinkable to enforce a 24-year sentence. He wasn't charged for breaching the Cyber Crime Act but Kano law. Our argument was that this court lacked the jurisdiction because the offence occurred in Abuja. He wasn't living in Kano. We are working on an appeal. The better half is ravaged. She has not had the ability to sleep," Ibor tells The Africa Report.Condemnations galore Amnesty International's Director in Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, condemned the long sentence, explaining his detention as an abuse of human rights.

A message she sent to The Africa Report check out in part, "Amnesty International is concerned that Mubarak Bala has been sentenced to 24 years imprisonment under criminal charges for breaching public peace through his Facebook posts of April 2020.USCIRF is annoyed that Nigerian authorities sentenced humanist leader Mubarak Bala to 24 years in prison on blasphemy charges.

" No one should go to jail exclusively for in harmony exercising his rights to freedom of expression, thought, and belief. Mubarak was apprehended for two years in offense of the constitution and minimum standards of reasonable hearing and his rights to personal liberty." Activist, Femi Falana, a senior supporter of Nigeria, tells The Africa Report that the sentence undermines the right to free speech.

He recommended the defence to file an appeal, including: "Bala Mubarak's right not to believe in God is constitutionally safeguarded. For that reason, his conviction is unlawful as it breaks his basic right to freedom of conscience ensured by Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution." The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) also condemned the Kano court's judgement in a declaration.

The company stated Bala was sentenced for in harmony revealing his beliefs, which the Nigerian government considers blasphemous.

" USCIRF is outraged that Nigerian authorities sentenced humanist leader Mubarak Bala to 24 years in prison on blasphemy charges," stated USCIRF Commissioner Frederick A. Davie" Mubarak Bala should not have been charged or founded guilty in the first place for merely revealing his liberty of belief and expression," the agency added.

Humanist activist, Leo Igwe, who is likewise an associate of Bala, explained the conviction as the victory of jihadists over free speech.

Igwe, a research study fellow of the James Randi Educational Foundation, informs The Africa Report how Bala's sentencing "underscores the dark and damaging hold of jihadist Islam on the justice system in Kano and Nigeria. For almost 2 years Bala has been apprehended without trial. He has been subjected to physical and mental torture by his Islamist jailers." He continues: "He was held incommunicado and denied family and lawyer acess for a number of months. Bala has been under immense pressure to reconvert to Islam and plead guilty for blaspheming against the prophet of Islam. What transpired in court was a result of a 2 year Islamic inquisitorial process."

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