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Kano atheist, Mubarak Bala, gets 24 years jail term for blasphemy

Kano atheist, Mubarak Bala, gets 24 years jail term for blasphemy

A Kano State High Court on Tuesday sentenced a Kano-born atheist, Mubarak Bala, to 24 years imprisonment for blasphemy.

The convict was earlier arraigned on an 18-count charge bordering on blasphemy, incitement, contempt of religion and breach of public peace.

The convict had pleaded guilty to the charges.

Mubarak (37) who is the president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, pleaded guilty to all 18 charges and asked for leniency.

Delivering judgment, Justice Farouk Lawan, sentenced the convict to 24 years imprisonment.

The judge also ordered that the sentence term would commence from the day that the convict was arrested. He has been in detention since 2020.

He also ordered that the sentences for all the 18 charges for which Bala was convicted should run concurrently.

A group of Muslims had filed a petition to the authorities accusing Bala of posting uncomplimentary messages about Islam on social media.

Kano has a majority Muslim population. It is one of around a dozen states in northern Nigeria where Islamic law is practiced alongside secular laws.

Bala could have faced the death penalty if he was tried in an Islamic court.

UN human rights experts and international rights groups had condemned his detention and called for his release.

Bala renounced his Islamic faith in 2014. He was then reportedly taken to a psychiatric hospital before being discharged.

He was arrested in 2020 in neighbouring Kaduna state, and transferred to Kano, his home state.

Prosecutors in northern Kano state accused Bala of making Facebook posts that insulted the Prophet Muhammad and the religion of Islam, and attempted to “cause a breach of the public peace”, according to court documents.

Bala long maintained his innocence of the charges of blasphemy but he changed his plea to guilty only after “enormous pressure for the past few years”, said Leo Igwe, founder of the Nigerian Humanist Association.

Judge compromised?

Bala was tried in a secular court but could have risked a death sentence in Nigeria’s Islamic courts that operate in other parts of the country’s north.

“He thinks the judge is compromised … and that he would rather just have closure,” Bala’s lawyer James Ibori said.

Bala’s prolonged stay in prison and eventual conviction caused anger among some Nigerians and activists who accused authorities of a flawed prosecution process. He should not have been charged under Kano state law, Ibori said, because “he was not in Kano when the offence was allegedly committed”.

While in prison, Bala had been denied access to healthcare, kept in solitary confinement, and forced “to worship the Islamic way”, said Ibori.

The Kano state government denied any wrongdoing in the trial and said the judgement could be appealed.

With Bala’s conviction, humanists and nonbelievers in Nigeria are “now potential criminals … who can easily be thrown into jail just for expressing their views”, said Igwe.

Islamic activism backgroud

Dr. Bala Muhammad, Mubarak Bala, Kano atheist, 24 years, jail term, blasphemy
Mubarak’s father, Dr Bala Muhammad

It has remained unclear how Mubarak got inspired into atheism, given his family background.

His father, Dr Bala Muhammad, is known as an active partcipant in Islamic activism.

Dr Bala participated in the Muslim Students Society (MSS) and other such Islamic-oriented groups, and was the pioneer director-general of a society reorientation agency popularly known as ‘A Daidaita Sahu’ in Kano State under the adminstration of Malam Ibrahim Shekarau.

He is a journalism teacher at Bayero University, Kano and maitains a backpage column wih the Sunday Trust newspaper. He also had a stint with the Voice of America (VOA), a US-based international radio station.

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