The American Humanist Association (AHA) strongly denounces today’s decision by the Kano State High Court in Nigeria to sentence Mubarak Bala, President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, to 24 years in prison. The AHA also condemns the court’s decision to convict him of 18 counts of causing public disturbance in connection to Facebook posts he is alleged to have made in April 2020.
Arrested at his home in Nigeria’s Kaduna state on April 28, 2020, Bala was subsequently transferred to Kano state, where a complaint had been filed based on the aforementioned Facebook posts, which the court judged to be insulting to the Prophet Muhammad.
Bala’s case was marred by procedural irregularities that have obstructed his right to a fair trial, including the routine denial of access to medical care and his legal team, being held without charge for 462 days, and the repeated failure of Kano State Authorities to comply with orders from higher courts.
The AHA is deeply concerned that Bala may have pled guilty to the charges contrary to the agreed-upon legal strategy. Alongside international partners, the AHA believes Bala was subjected to intimidation or was tricked into pleading guilty for a lighter sentence. Additionally, there are reports of threats to Bala and his loved ones.
“This is a very sad day for humanists around the world and we are working together with the global humanist community and government officials to support Mr. Bala and his loved ones,” commented AHA Executive Director Nadya Dutchin. “Freedom of religion or belief must extend to all people, including humanists, atheists, and freethinkers–like Bala–who seek to peacefully exercise their rights of expression.”
In 2020, both chambers of the United States Congress adopted resolutions calling for the global repeal of blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws. Earlier that year, Bala’s case was adopted by United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Commissioner Frederick A. Davie, as part of USCIRF’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project. Additionally, USCIRF recommended Nigeria be designated a Country of Particular Concern in their Annual Reports in both 2020 and 2021, which the AHA supports.
The AHA will continue to work closely with the US Congress, the State Department, USCIRF, and international partners to uplift Bala’s case and argue for his immediate and unconditional release.
“We urge the Nigerian government to immediately and unconditionally overturn Bala’s sentence and conviction, release him, and ensure his safety and his family’s safety after doing so. The global human rights community is watching,” concluded Dutchin.