A 13-year-old Nigerian sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for blasphemy is finally free as he wins his appeal in Kano state.
In August 2020, Omar Farouq was convicted in a Sharia court in Kano State of northwestern Nigeria, after being accused of using foul language about Allah while arguing with a friend.
Though only 13 years old, Farouq was tried as an adult because he has attained puberty and has full responsibility under Islamic law.
The Sharia court's ruling last year sparked international Condemnation. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) condemned the boy's 10-year prison sentence.
"The sentencing of this child, 13-year-old Omar Farouq, to 10 years in prison with menial labor is wrong," said UNICEF representative, Peter Hawkins. "It also negates all core underlying principles of child rights and child justice that Nigeria — and by implication, Kano State — has signed on to."
He was released after five months of incarceration with no access to family or lawyers. The Sharia court's nullified judgment described him as a 17-year-old minor, but Alapinni told CNN his client is only 13.
Justice for the 13 yr old accused of blasphemy in Kano State. Though he walks free, his life is changed forever. According to reports, his parents have disowned him & it's no longer safe for him to remain there. That is the power of a blasphemy accusation. https://t.co/eopkAOCgFm
— Andrew Copson (@andrewcopson) January 22, 2021
Farouq’s lawyer, Kola Alapinni, said he found out about Farouq’s case entirely by chance as he was working on another blasphemy case.
“We found out they were convicted on the same day, by the same judge, in the same court, for blasphemy. And we found out no one was talking about Omar, so we had to move quickly to file an appeal for him.”
Kano State, like most predominantly Muslim states in Nigeria, practices Sharia law alongside secular law. "Blasphemy is not recognized by Nigerian law. It is inconsistent with the constitution of Nigeria," advises Alapinni.
The lawyer, Kola Alapinni, said the teenager would not be safe if he remains in Kano. He advised that the 22-year old singer also being tried for blasphemy, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, was likely to remain in custody until his retrial.
The 13-year-old teenager's parents disassociated themselves from him because of the shame caused by the case, according to Mr. Alapinni.
Alapinni said Farouq’s mother fled to another nearby town after his arrest because the mobs descended on their home. “Everyone here is scared to speak and living under fear of reprisal attacks,” he added.
Farouq's acquittal will come as a relief to human rights campaigners. But in Kano state, with a majority-Muslim population, there is steadfast support for Sharia, yet very little public acknowledgment of the teenager's incident.
Instead, the residents are more fervent regarding the case of Yahaya Sharif-Aminu. Some of those who have been petitioning for Aminu's execution will be enraged about the latest ruling, while others will keenly follow the retrial if it starts.
The appeals court ordered a retrial due to procedural irregularities in the blasphemy case of Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, the singer who was sentenced to death by the court for using lyrics deemed blasphemous against the Prophet Muhammad.
Kano State's Sharia Penal Code requests the death penalty for the offense of blasphemy.
The authorities in Kano state appear unhappy with the dismissal of the case against the minor. The state Attorney-General Musa Lawan told the BBC that they would consider appealing the ruling in favor of Farouq.