More than a year after a landmark case in Nigeria that saw atheist Mubarak Bala imprisoned for expressing his views on religion, a US congressman took up his case and joined in the calls to free Bala.
President Buhari: As you leave office, please exercise your last chance to free Mubarak Bala, a religious prisoner, husband and father of a three-year-old boy. Sentenced to 24 years in Nigeria for his nonviolent humanist activism, Bala must be released. https://t.co/lJk0UVqGU4
— Rep. Jamie Raskin (@RepRaskin) May 25, 2023
Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland announced that he would sponsor the case of Mubarak Bala through the Lantos Commission’s Defending Freedoms Project. The commission was established in honor of former Representative Tom Lantos, an American Jewish congressman and a leading human rights advocate during his term in the US Congress.
“I'm sponsoring Nigerian political prisoner Mubarak Bala through the @TLHumanRights Commission.” Representative Raskin posted on Twitter. “Bala is imprisoned for not believing in an afterlife and speaking out against religious extremism. His case underscores the dangers of theocracy. President Buhari, free him now!”
I'm sponsoring Nigerian political prisoner Mubarak Bala through the @TLHumanRights Commission. Bala is imprisoned for not believing in an afterlife and speaking out against religious extremism. His case underscores the dangers of theocracy. President Buhari, free him now!
— Rep. Jamie Raskin (@RepRaskin) May 16, 2023
The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission allows members of Congress like Rep. Jamie Raskin to cast light on political prisoners and prisoners of conscience worldwide like Bala and also gives them a platform to demand accountability for their unjust treatment.
Through a press release, Rep. Raskin’s office also explained his reason for sponsoring Bala’s case and urged outgoing Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to release him.
“Authoritarian regimes use blasphemy laws to imprison and torture people who dare to engage in critical thinking and honestly express their beliefs,” Rep. Raskin said in his press release. “Bala’s case highlights the urgent need to defend freedom of expression, freedom of thought, and human rights around the world.”
“Nigeria, it is time to end the theocratic persecution of Mubarak Bala. President Buhari, I urge you to immediately issue a pardon for Mr. Bala before your term ends this May.” Rep. Raskin added, directly addressing President Buhari.
Aside from the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, several organizations also took up the case and amplified calls for Bala’s release. Initiatives and groups like Freedom Now, the Political Prisoners Initiative of Freedom House, and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom sponsored Bala’s case and urged authorities to free him.
No one should spend 24 minutes—much less 24 yrs—behind bars for the absurd thought crime of “blasphemy.” I join @USCIRF in condemning Nigeria's sentencing of humanist leader Mubarak Bala to 24 years in prison for criticizing Islam on social media. Nigeria—call off this outrage!
— Rep. Jamie Raskin (@RepRaskin) April 11, 2022
The European Parliament also passed a resolution last April 2023 condemning the use of blasphemy laws in Nigeria to implicate individuals like Mubarak Bala and Yahaya Sharif Aminu, an Islamic gospel musician from Kano, and also called for their release.
Several human rights NGOs, including Humanist International, also reached out to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and submitted a petition seeking expert opinions on Bala’s case. Humanist International also called on the Nigerian government to repeal federal and state laws on blasphemy.
Humanists International welcomes news that US Congressman Rep. Jamie Raskin has adopted the case of Nigerian humanist Mubarak Bala through the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s (Lantos Commission) Defending Freedoms Project. #FreeMubarakBalahttps://t.co/OhgjQY7ddz
— Humanists International (@HumanistsInt) May 18, 2023
Mubarak Bala previously served as the President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria before his arrest. In April 2020, the self-identified atheist was arrested by authorities in Kano for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad, violating Section 210 of Kano State’s Penal Code and Section 26 (1)(c) of the country’s Cybercrimes Act of 2015. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison, and he’s currently appealing his conviction.