'Utterly disgraceful'

International protests to release Bala after his 2020 arrest for posting innocuous remarks on Facebook made no impression on the Nigerian judiciary

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Humanists International today (Tuesday) strongly condemned a decision by the Kano State High Court to jail Bala for 24 years.

The organization, which has been vigorously campaigning for Bala’s release from the day he was taken into custody, described the sentence as “outrageous”.

Bala was found guilty on 18 counts of causing a public disturbance under Sections 210 and 114 of the Kano State Penal Code, respectively.

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Dr Leo Igwe, above, Nigerian-born human rights campaigner and a board member of Humanists International, reacted by saying:

The Humanist community in Nigeria is utterly shocked by the sentencing of Mubarak Bala for ‘blasphemy’. It is utterly disgraceful that a court in this 21st century could convict an individual for making innocuous posts on Facebook.

Today is a sad day for humanism, human rights and freedom in Nigeria. The sentencing of Mubarak Bala is a stark violation of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief. We urge the authorities in Nigeria to ensure that this judicial charade does not stand.

Bala, President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was arrested at his home in Kaduna State, northern Nigeria, on 28 April 2020 in connection with a series of Facebook posts that some deemed to be “blasphemous” and likely to cause a public disturbance.

Bala’s case has been subject to a series of procedural irregularities that have hindered his right to a fair trial. They include:

  • Being presented in court for the first time 644 days after his arrest;
  • Being denied access to medical care;
  • Being held without charge for 462 days;
  • Being denied access to his legal team for more than five months;
  • Court hearings have been subjected to repeated adjournments;
  • The Kano State Police Commissioner repeatedly refused to comply with an order issued by a Magistrate requiring the police to grant Bala access to his legal team;
  • The Kano State authorities have failed to comply with a ruling of the Abuja High Court that determined that Bala should be released on bail.

Andrew Copson, President of Humanists International, commented:

The thoughts of the whole global humanist movement are with our friend Mubarak, his wife, and his baby son. This is a day of shame for the Nigerian authorities, who have imposed an unthinkable punishment on an innocent man.

For two years Mubarak’s fundamental rights to liberty and a fair trial have been consistently violated. He has been charged and found guilty of offenses that amount to no more than expressing a non-religious opinion. We call on the Nigerian authorities to quash this completely unjust and entirely disproportionate conviction, and release our innocent friend and colleague.

Humanists International believes that Mubarak Bala is being targeted for the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and religion or belief, and calls for his conviction and sentence to be overturned; for Bala to be released immediately and unconditionally, and for the Nigerian authorities to ensure his safety upon his release.

It said:

To this end, we urge the state and federal authorities to repeal their outdated blasphemy laws.

Please donate now to help HI cover Mubarak Bala’s legal expenses.

Veteran journalist and free speech activist Barry Duke was, for 24 years, editor of The Freethinker magazine, the second oldest continually active freethought publication in the world, established by G.W....