Nigeria Court Commutes Sentence in High-profile Blasphemy Case

Wed May 15 2024
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KANO, Nigeria: An appeals court in northern Nigeria has commuted an atheist’s 24-year prison sentence for blasphemy to five years, one of his lawyers said on Tuesday.

Mubarak Bala’s case highlighted the complex problem of blasphemy in predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria, where Sharia law runs alongside common law and criticism of Islam is highly sensitive.

Bala, who heads the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was given a 24-year sentence by the Kano State High Court in April 2022 for online posts he wrote over several months in 2020 that disparaged Islam, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and God, according to court proceedings.

Arrested at his home in neighbouring Kaduna and detained in Kano, Bala pleaded guilty to all 18 charges brought against him at the High Court despite attempts by the judge and his lawyer to get him to change his plea.

At the time, his lawyer criticized the sentence as “outrageous” and said they would appeal if Bala gave his consent.

In an online ruling published on Monday, the appeals court reduced the 24-year sentence to five, Mohammed Buba, one of Bala’s lawyers, told media.

“The Court of Appeal commuted the 24-year sentence handed down to Mubarak Bal in its judgment yesterday (Monday) via Google Teams,” Buba said.

“This means that Mubarak will only serve five years in prison and then he will be free.”

The defence team was still waiting for a copy of the judgment from the court to examine the details of the sentence and determine when Bala is expected to complete his sentence, Buba said.

Hailing from a religious Muslim home in Kano, Bala renounced Islam and publicly declared himself an atheist, posting impassioned posts online about his humanist ideas and scathing attacks on Islam that many Muslims considered blasphemous.

Blasphemy is routinely punishable by death under Sharia law, although it is rarely carried out in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, where the north is predominantly Muslim and the south is predominantly Christian.

In some cases of alleged blasphemy in Nigeria, the accused are killed by mobs without going through legal process.

At least two Muslim clerics and a singer have been sentenced to death for blasphemy in recent years, although none have been executed. All three have appealed the sentence.

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