Nigerian Atheist Mubarak Bala Sentenced to 24 Years in Prison for Blasphemy

On April 2, Mubarak Bala pleaded guilty to blasphemy charges for posting social media posts that caused a public disturbance “due to their blasphemous content.” He was sentenced to 24 years in prison for his alleged crime.

The Humanist Association of Nigeria president Bala wanted to “use his public social media account to express his sentiments against religion.” On April 25, 2020, to the discouragement of his wife, Bala declared on Facebook that the Prophet Muhamad was a terrorist.

He was arrested three days later.

Bala was not granted access to a lawyer until five months after he was arrested. In March 2021, a hearing was made for his charges without him present in court. His first court appearance was in February this year.

Prosecutors in Kano High Court accused Bala of insulting the Prophet Muhammad, which “caused a breach of the public peace.” Bala has maintained his innocence and denounced the charges against him.

Leo Igwe, the founder of the Nigerian Humanist Association, said Bala changed his plea because of the “enormous pressure for the past few years.”

In court, Bala requested to change his plea to guilty, to the surprise of his legal team. One of his lawyers said, “he changed his plea and pleaded guilty to the whole 18-count charges; we were in shock.”

The judge presiding the hearing paused the trial to make sure Bala “was under no influence or intimidation” and that he understood “the implication of his plea.”

“It feels like he felt he should just know his fate. He didn’t know when this would come to an end. He may have thought a guilty plea would lead to some leniency, but the judgment was harsh,” Bala’s lawyer added.

If Bala’s case had been tried in a Sharia court, he could have been given the death penalty.

“He was under pressure to admit he was guilty and that otherwise, he could die in prison,” Igwe added. “It was impressed on him by authorities in Kano that the only way his family could be safe was if he admitted that he was guilty,” he added.

With Bala’s conviction, atheists and humanists in Nigeria are now “potential criminals who can easily be thrown into jail just for expressing their views,” Igwe said. “Humanists have become endangered citizens of Nigeria,” he added.

James Ibori, a lawyer in Bala’s defense team, said Bala has “expressed frustration over the delay in his trial.” “He thinks the judge is compromised … and would rather just have closure,” he added.

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