Mubarak Bala

Name: Mubarak Bala

Country/Area of Origin: Nigeria

Background: Mubarak Bala is the president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria. Formerly a chemical engineer and Muslim, in 2014, Bala renounced Islam and became an atheist. Bala’s family was extremely critical of this conversion, and his father had him arrested and eventually put into a psychiatric institution for almost a month. Following his release, Bala became a prominent atheist activist

Reason for Arrest:

On April 27, 2020, Bala was accused by a law firm in Kano, Kano State, Nigeria of making blasphemous posts on the internet denigrating the Prophet Muhammad, and according to The Humanist, “the petitioners alleged that Bala’s posts will incite the Muslim community and lead to public disturbance.”

The following day, Bala was arrested in Kaduna State, Nigeria and was transferred to Kano State following his arrest, though his whereabouts remain undisclosed. Bala was not formally charged and is therefore being subjected to unlawful detention, and it is believed that he may be rejected from accessing legal counsel.

Latest Updates:

  • On 5 April 2022, Humanists International reported that Kano State High Court had convicted Bala on 18 counts of public disturbance and blasphemy under state penal code articles 210 and 114, and sentenced him to 24 years in prison.
    • “The Humanist community in Nigeria is utterly shocked by the sentencing of Mubarak Bala for ‘blasphemy’. It is utterly disgraceful that a court could convict an individual for making innocuous posts on Facebook. Today is a sad day for humanism, human rights and freedom in Nigeria. The sentencing of Mubarak Bala is a stark violation of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief. We urge the authorities in Nigeria to ensure that this judicial charade does not stand.” – Dr. Leo Igwe, Board Member, Humanists International
    • “USCIRF is outraged that Nigerian authorities sentenced humanist leader Mubarak Bala to 24 years in prison on blasphemy charges. Mubarak Bala should not have been charged or convicted in the first place for simply expressing his freedom of belief and expression.” USCIRF Commissioner Frederick Davie
    • “USCIRF encourages the U.S. government to engage urgently with Nigerian counterparts to protect Bala from this severe sentence, which is a clear violation of his right to freedom of belief as defined under international law. The U.S. government should amplify that we value freedom of religion or belief abroad, oppose blasphemy laws, and hold partner governments responsible for violating the right to religious freedom.” – USCIRF Commissioner Tony Perkins
  • In November 2021, following the US State Department’s condemnable removal of Nigeria from the Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) list of nations where violations of religious freedom occur, the Humanist Association of Nigeria released the following statement:
    • “Nigerian humanist, Mubarak Bala, remains in custody for committing no crime. He has been held for over a year without prosecution. The de-listing of Nigeria [from the CPC designations list] sends wrong signals to these Islamists in Kano and other places because Nigeria has not taken concrete steps to mitigate egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief”.
    • “Instead, the situation of religious freedom continues to worsen. Humanists in the country, especially those in Sharia implementing states live in constant fear [for] their lives. They are constantly harassed and threatened online and offline by Muslim fanatics for expressing their views and opinions”.
  • 23 September 2021: Four human rights attorneys – Kola Alapinni, A.A. Muhammad, Ebuka Ikeorah, and Rouf Gazali – wrote a letter to the Nigerian government in which they urged the upholding of Bala’s human rights. They explained that Bala has repeatedly been denied medical care despite having hypertension, and they also noted that Bala’s 14-month detention before receiving charges violated the national constitution which stipulates that civilians must be charged and brought before a court within a week of their arrest. The four lawyers closed their letter by requesting that the Attorney General transfer Bala to an Abuja prison, permit him access to legal counsel and family visits, and medicate him for his hypertension: “Let the courts decide if Mr. Bala has committed any crime but, in the meantime, restore to him the rights the Constitution guarantees him. That is all we ask”.
  • On 30 April 2021, USCIRF tweeted comments by Commissioner Frederick Davie welcoming the UN statement below. Commissioner Davie stated:
    • “We’re pleased that Mubarak Bala’s case is a priority for the UN, and adamantly echo their call for his release.”
  • On 28 April 2021, the first anniversary of Bala’s arrest, a group of 8 United Nations experts* released a statement calling for his release:
    • “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 has continued despite our appeals to the Government in May and July last year.”
    • “The arrest and prolonged detention of Mr. Bala is not only a flagrant violation of fundamental rights, but it has also had a chilling effect on the exercise of fundamental freedoms in Nigeria. Through his detention, the Government is sending the wrong signal to extremist groups that the silencing and intimidation of human rights defenders and minority non-believers us acceptable.”
    • “As soon as the Courts resume, the hearing of the new petition must proceed promptly and the authorities must end this unjustified prolonged detention of Mr. Bala for good.”
    • * Mr. Ahmed Shaheed (Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief); Ms. Mary Lawlor (Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders); Mr. Nils Melzer (Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment); Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng (Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health); Mr. Morris Tidball-Binz (Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions); Mr. Fernand de Varennes (Special Rapporteur on minority issues); Ms. Irene Khan (Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression); and Mr. Diego García-Sayán (Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers)
  • In March 2021, it was reported that there is a new Commissioner of Police in Kano State, Sama’ila Shuaibu Dikko. In response to the new commissioner, hopes have raised regarding cases relating to law enforcement in Kano State; many expect Commissioner Dikko to “uphold the rule of law, not the rule of the Islamic mob, as was the case under Sani [former Commissioner of Police].
  • On 17 September 2020, USCIRF Commissioner Frederick A. Davie adopted Mubarak Bala via USCIRF’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project, and made the following remarks:
    • “There is absolutely no reason why Mubarak Bala should continue to be held in detention without charge, seemingly for nothing more than exercising his right to freedom of belief and expression. His incommunicado status is particularly alarming. The Nigerian government must take all steps necessary to confirm his whereabouts and safety, and ensure that he is afforded a fair trial in a secular court. If his only alleged crime is blasphemy, he must immediately be released and allowed to return home to his family.” – USCIRF Commissioner Frederick A. Davie