As Chair of the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, I express my grave concern at the ongoing imprisonment of Mubarak Bala.
Mubarak Bala, who served as the President of the Nigerian Humanist Association, has been detained since April 2020.
On 28 April 2020, Bala, who was known for his advocacy on behalf of atheist human rights, was arrested from his home in Kaduna and taken to Kano state. He was held without charge for over one year on account of allegations of blasphemous content that he had posted on his Facebook page. A group of independent United Nations experts called on the Nigerian authorities to immediately release him on 24 July 2020, stating that they were concerned for his safety in detention and the death threats made against him on account of his atheistic beliefs, and that the detention was arbitrary.
However, the Nigerian authorities did not release Bala and he was denied access to legal counsel until October 2020. In December 2020, Nigeria’s high court ruled that Bala’s detention undermined his rights to personal freedom, fair hearing, freedom of thought and expression and ordered his release on bail. Bala was formally charged in August 2021 despite him not being present in Court at the time. The application that his lawyers submitted for bail was later rejected.
On 5 April 2022, Bala pled guilty to 18 counts of causing a public disturbance under Sections 210 and 114 of the Kano State Penal Code, leading him to be sentenced to 24 years imprisonment by the Kano State High Court. His legal team have alleged that he faced intimidation during the court processes which led him to submit a guilty plea. Bala has filed appeals through the Appellate Court and Kano State Court of Appeal.
I join international calls for Mubarak Bala to be pardoned. His right to practice his beliefs freely must be protected as guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution.