New Low: The Woman Jailed for Merely Condemning a Blasphemy Lynching

When she heard about the news of Deborah Yakubu, a Christian university student in Nigeria, being lynched by a mob of Muslim students over alleged blasphemy, Rhoda Ya’u Jatau shared a message among her co-workers that criticized the lynching via WhatsApp.

Sharing the video condemning the killing of Deborah Yakubu, Jatau, a Christian mother of five, and a healthcare administrator with the Warji local government in her home state of Bauchi, northeastern Nigeria, led to her arrest a few days later, and she has been in prison since May 2022.

Prosecutors accuse the then 45-year-old Jatau of committing multiple offenses of inciting disturbance, contempt for religious creed, and cyberstalking. She had been denied bail, and her family has been hiding for fear of violence against them.

A state high court rejected her “no-case submission” on November 27th, and according to Kola Alapinni, lead counsel at the Foundation for Religious Freedom based in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, her defense team is expected to make another case when the court sits again in December.

Rhoda Ya’u Jatau could be sentenced to a few years if the court finds her guilty. The decision of the high court to reject her case led to public backlash in parts of Nigeria, a country with a history of religious extremism and where blasphemy remains a criminal offense.

According to Alapinni, Nigeria is one of the 12 states in the world that criminalizes blasphemy and one of the seven where it is punishable by death.

This really shows how far extremism has permeated deeply into our institutions,” Ndi Kato, a Nigerian politician and executive director of Dinidari, an advocacy group for women’s rights in central Nigeria. “You will lock a person for just forwarding a message because you don’t think that it favors what you believe in? I don’t think that has any place in our society today.

The general secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Bauchi, Wakili Mathew Laslimbo, expressed that the Christian minority in Bauchi is not happy about Jatau’s arrest, adding that the association has tried everything to help her, including trying to meet the state’s governor, but to no avail.

The arrest prove[s] to us that the freedom of speech and religion is highly restricted … the church continues to pray for her during gatherings,” Rev Ishaku Dano Ayuba, Jatau’s pastor, lamented.

Jatau’s arrest is not the only high-profile blasphemy case that rocked Nigeria. Mubarak Bala, an atheist and president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, has been in prison since 2020 after he allegedly shared a blasphemous post on Facebook.

Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, a Sufi (Islamic) gospel artist, was sentenced to death after sharing song lyrics that were allegedly blasphemous on WhatsApp. His case remains in court.

International human rights organization Amnesty International has called for their immediate and unconditional release and the protection of their rights afterward.

Isa Sanusi, country director for Amnesty International in Nigeria, said accusations of blasphemy have been repeatedly used in Nigeria to commit gross human rights violations and even for “settling personal scores.

Repeatedly, Nigerian authorities failed to uphold and protect human rights by making sure that people are not either killed or attacked for expressing their opinions,” Sanusi told Al Jazeera.

Nigerian authorities must wake up to their national and international legal obligations to protect and promote human rights, including the right to freedom of religion,” he added.

The Bauchi state government did not respond to requests for comments by the media. Temitope Ajayi, a presidential spokesperson, said that the Nigerian federal government had no knowledge of the case.

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