Where is Mubarak Bala?

The fact that blasphemers need protection in our 21st-century world is a bad sign and a clear indication that humanity in many parts of the world has not made much progress from its medieval and early modern European times. Protection of blasphemers presents a challenge as well as an opportunity to fulfill an intellectual and moral duty. It is an invitation to rethink the claim to Enlightenment and to recommit dispelling the forces of religious dogmatism and fanaticism around the globe. The case of Nigerian humanist, Mubarak Bala, amply illustrates these dangers and risks that stare all of humanity in the face. The police arrested Bala in Kaduna on April 28, 2020. The arrest happened following a petition by local Islamists who complained that Bala insulted the prophet of Islam in a Facebook post. The petitioners alleged that Bala called the prophet of Islam a terrorist and a pedophile. Islam is one of the main religions in Nigeria. Arab scholars and jihadists introduced the religion using in some cases violence against those who refused to embrace Islam or those critical of the religion. Islam, as practiced in Nigeria, is opposed to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression. Muslims and those who live in Muslim dominated areas are held hostage by the religion. They cannot fully express themselves or exercise their human rights.

Islam is pervasive in the northern part of the country where Bala hails from. Sharia law is in force in the Muslim majority states. The moral police called Hisbah are active in these places. The government turns a blind eye on their abusive and unconstitutional practices.

Following his arrest, the police took Bala to Kano and disappeared him for several months. They denied him access to a lawyer and family visits. The police have refused to charge or release him. Meanwhile, other Muslims have taken to social media calling for the murder of Mr. Bala if he is eventually released from police custody. Alleged blasphemers are either sentenced to death by sharia courts or murdered in cold blood in northern Nigeria. Islamic courts hand down death sentences to blasphemers if they are Muslims as in the case of Yahaya Sharif. Muslim fanatics kill, lynch, or behead alleged blasphemers if they are non-Muslims, as in the case of Bridget Agbahime, Mrs. Agbahime, a Christian woman, was murdered in Kano for insulting the prophet Muhammad. Her suspected assailants were charged in a court, but the Kano state government pressured the court to dismiss the matter, stating that the suspects had no case to answer. There have been similar attacks and killings of alleged blasphemers and desecrators of the Quran in Gombe and Niger state.

But the case of Mubarak Bala is special. He is an ex-Muslim. Bala renounced Islam in 2014. So, the Kano state government is in a dilemma. The government is unable to try him in a sharia court-because he is not a Muslim. And a trial in a secular state court would only deliver a maximum punishment of a two-year imprisonment, which would not appease the Islamists.

In Nigeria, blasphemers are attacked or killed usually for insulting one religion, Islam, and one prophet- prophet Muhammad. Blasphemy laws enable contempt for human rights and perpetration of barbarous acts with impunity. To protect blasphemers, blasphemy laws must be abolished because these laws pose a serious threat to the rights of all persons, including Muslims. Those involved in blasphemy related attacks, arson, beheading, and murder must be brought to justice and made to answer for their crimes. Governments that fail to protect alleged blasphemers should be sanctioned. And blasphemy should be defended as a human right, not a crime.

Leo Igwe
Author Leo Igwe
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