A group of 10 UN human rights experts has called on the Nigerian government to overturn the death sentence for blasphemy handed to Yahaya Sharif-Aminu by a Shari’a court in the Hausawa Filin Hockey area of Kano City in Kano state.
Mr Sharif-Aminu, 22, was sentenced to death by hanging on 10 August by the presiding judge, Aliyu Muhammad Kani, after being found guilty of committing blasphemy in a song he shared on WhatsApp in March, which his accusers claimed elevated Sheikh Ibrahim Nyass, a renowned scholar from the Tijjaniyya Sufi order, above the Prophet Mohammed.
In the statement, dated 28 September, the experts state: “Artistic expression of opinion and beliefs, through songs or other media – including those seen to offend religious sensibilities – is protected in accordance with international law. The criminalization of these expressions is unlawful,” urging Nigeria to “take effective measures to protect Mr. Sharif-Aminu, in detention as well as after his release.”
Earlier this month, Commissioner Frederick A. Davie of the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) adopted imprisoned Mr Sharif-Aminu along with detained humanist Mubarak Bala as part of the Commission’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project.
In other news, the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland, Dr Piotr Cywinski, has written to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari calling on him to personally pardon 13-year-old Umar Farouk, who was sentenced to ten years in prison with menial labour for blasphemy on the same day as Mr Sharif-Aminu received his sentence. Mr Farouk was found guilty of using foul language against God during an argument with a friend.
In his letter to President Buhari, dated 25 September, Dr Cywinski offers to take the place of the child along with 119 volunteers who would each serve a month in prison. Dr Cywinski states: “I cannot remain indifferent to this disgraceful sentence for humanity… Regardless of what he said, [Mr Farouk] cannot be treated as fully aware and responsible, given his age. He should not be subjected to the loss of the entirety of his youth, be deprived of opportunities, and stigmatized physically, emotionally, and educationally for the rest of his life.”
While Nigeria’s constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion or belief, blasphemy is prohibited under Section 204 of the country’s Criminal Code. In addition, 12 of Nigeria’s 36 states have enacted the Shari’a penal code since 1999, transforming Islam into a state religion in defiance of the federal constitution, and empowering Shari’a courts to hand out such sentences as amputation for theft and execution for crimes such as blasphemy and adultery.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “CSW welcomes and echoes continued calls for the release of Yahaya Sharif-Aminu and Umar Farouk, neither of whom should be imprisoned. Nigeria’s blasphemy law is entirely incompatible with the country’s national and international obligations. It is also a driver of religious extremism, an issue which the country must address as a matter of urgency.”
Note to editors:
1. Signatories to the UN statement are as follows:
- Ms. Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights;
- Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief;
- Ms. Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Mr. José Guevara Bermúdez, Mr. Seong-Phil Hong, Mr. Sètondji Adjovi, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention;
- Ms. Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions;
- Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression;
- Mr. Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.