Washington, DC – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today reiterated its calls for the release of Nigerian religious prisoners of conscience Mubarak Bala and Yahaya Sharif Aminu. Both men have been imprisoned on charges of blasphemy since 2020, in violation of international law protecting freedom of religion or belief.
“Both Mubarak Bala and Yahaya Sharif Aminua have been unjustly imprisoned for more than three years,” said USCIRF Commissioner Frederick A. Davie. “U.S. officials in Nigeria must urge the government to release them and work towards repealing blasphemy laws and enacting interim policies to protect religious freedom as outlined in our 2022 policy update.”
In April 2020, authorities arrested the humanist leader and activist Mubarak Bala and transferred him to Kano State, where he was charged a year later with blasphemy for posting comments on social media that some considered insulting to Islam. In 2022, Bala pled guilty to all charges under duress from government officials and was sentenced to 24 years in prison. USCIRF has urged the U.S. government to call on the Kano State governor to pardon Bala, free him, and ensure his and his family’s safety.
In September 2020, authorities charged Tijaniyya Muslim musician Yahaya Sharif Aminu with blasphemy under Shari’a legal codes for disseminating a song that some considered insulting to the Prophet. Last month, the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning Nigeria’s blasphemy laws and calling for Sharif Aminu’s release. USCIRF has urged the U.S. government to encourage Nigerian authorities to release Sharif Aminu and drop the charges against him.
“The Nigerian government must focus on prosecuting violent offenders targeting religious communities, not individuals peacefully expressing minority beliefs and interpretations,” said USCIRF Commissioner Frank Wolf. “The U.S. government must properly incentivize Nigeria to do so, including by designating Nigeria a country of particular concern and appointing a Special Envoy for Nigeria and the Great Lakes Region.”
In its 2023 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended that the U.S. Department of State designate Nigeria as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, for engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief. Last year, USCIRF held a hearing on U.S. policy in Nigeria and produced analyses on Nigeria’s blasphemy laws and on violence impacting religious freedom in Nigeria.