Mubarak Bala, Imprisoned Nigerian Atheist, Faces New Charges

On August 3, the High Court of Kano State in Nigeria formally charged Mubarak Bala, an atheist and president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, for causing a public disturbance. The High Court's charges, which come as a highly delayed action, revolves around Bala's Facebook posts which spanned over 2020. The public disturbance charges fall under Kano State Penal Code's sections 114 and 210. 

On April 28, 2020, Bala was arrested in his home in northern Nigeria. Bala, an ex-Muslim, knew too well that his childhood community would not take the series of Facebook posts he made lightly. Bala's wife, Amina Ahmed, believed that even if her husband's social media attacks target both Christians and Muslims, the latter would be more inclined to take action. "They don't care. They can just kill you and nothing happens," she warned her husband.

As the president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, Bala was intent to use his public social media account to express his sentiments against religion. On April 25, 2020, Bala declared on Facebook that the Prophet Muhammad is a terrorist. He was arrested three days later and was not seen again by his family. 

Bala was imprisoned without any charges for almost two years. Several international organizations who have been keeping a close look on Bala's whereabouts and well-being have reported multiple violations against his human rights, including the court's denial to give Bala a fair trial. There were also constant attempts to derail his legal team's effort to have him released on bail. For five months, he was not given access to his lawyer.

Nigeria's penal code is heavily reliant on Sharia law. As of 1960, Nigeria is one of the few nations outside, excluding Muslim Asian nations and outside the Arabian peninsula, to use Islamic laws in substantive and procedural criminal litigations. Even after adopting a new hybrid constitution, states in Nigeria, including Kano, still maintain a Sharia court as part of their "religion and customary laws," according to a 2019 report from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The USCIRF also tags Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern in their 2020 and 2021 report.

International Atheist and Humanist organizations are adding pressure to Nigeria to address this case against Bala. Roy Speckhardt, the director of the American Humanist Association, declares that they are joining the unified "call for the transfer of Bala to neutral territory and demand that he is given the fair trial he is entitled to. Bala shouldn't be unduly punished for the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of religion."

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