Nigerian Humanist Activist Mubarak Bala Illegally Detained for Over 1 Year

On April 28th, 2020, Mubarak Bala (age 37), an Ex-Muslim atheist and President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was apprehended at his home and then taken to the northern state of Kano. There he faced blasphemy accusations from religious figures. Blasphemy is punishable by death in the region where sharia law is enforced on Muslims despite Nigeria’s own Constitution.

Bala allegedly posted insulting criticism about Islam on Facebook last April. This enraged conservative Muslims who found his posts offensive to the prophet Muhammed. Consequently, he was inundated with a stream of threats and accusations.

On April 28, 2021, members of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)  requested that Nigeria release Bala on bail. This famed humanist was accused of blasphemy and detained over one year ago without being officially charged. The UNHRC rebuked the Nigerian authorities for their “flagrant violation of fundamental human rights.”



The Nigerian government ignored them.“Today marks one year since Mr. Bala was arrested and detained in Kano State, without any formal charges, on allegations of blasphemy. His arbitrary detention continued despite our appeals to the Government in May and July last year,” noted the Human Rights Council on April 28th. 

“Through his continued detention, the government is sending the wrong signal to extremist groups that the silencing and intimidation of human rights defenders and minority non-believers is acceptable,” they added. 

Bala’s wife, Ms. Amina Ahmed, gave birth to his son only weeks before he was wrongfully detained. For months, Ms. Ahmed did not even know what happened to her husband. “I didn’t even know he was alive,” she said. 

She eventually learned her husband was transported to a prison in Kano about 200 km away. “When I finally heard his voice, it was like cold water being poured on me.”

Bala’s attorneys anonymously informed the Guardian that authorities are detaining Bala on a “holding charge,” common with arbitrary, autocratic confinement without providing legal due process.

“The ongoing detention of Mubarak Bala for nothing more than exercising his freedom of belief and expression is unacceptable and must come to an end,” said Roy Speckhardt, AHA Executive Director.  “The AHA joins the international humanist community to call for Bala’s immediate release.”

The AHA, together with 89 other humanist organizations and concerned individuals around the world, published an open letter to the Kano State Governor urgently requesting Bala’s release. 

The letter says (in part), “The undersigned organizations fear that Mr. Bala is being targeted solely for his exercise of his rights of freedom of belief and freedom of expression, as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution and international and regional instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory. We urge you to uphold your duty to respect fundamental freedoms and to release Mubarak Bala immediately without conditions.”

"I think the refusal to obey the court order is mischievous and illegal, but we are trying to close all gaps, to give them no excuse," said James Ibor, one of Bala’s attorneys. There was no response from Kano state’s attorney-general to several messages and calls regarding the case.

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