Nigeria: Bala’s lawyers meet with German Special Envoy


  • post Type / General news
  • Date / 12 September 2022

On 22 August, lawyers representing Nigerian humanist, Mubarak Bala, together with Bala’s wife and son, as well as representatives of the humanist movement, including Dr Leo Igwe, met with Frank Schwabe (SPD), Federal Government Commissioner for Freedom of Religion and Belief, during his five-day trip to the country.

Director of the German Humanist Association, Michael Bauer

Ahead of the meeting, Director of the Board of the German Humanist Association, Michael Bauer, stated:

“We are very grateful that Frank Schwabe specifically took up our request for his special attention to Mubarak Bala. In our view, Bala’s imprisonment and sentencing are a massive violation of freedom of belief and expression; from a humanistic point of view, his prison sentence is cynical and intolerable. We hope that the talks of the German Federal Commissioner will improve Bala’s situation and prospects, and that maybe even his release can be obtained. Bala’s situation is exemplary of the suffering of people in a number of countries around the world, where freedom of religion or belief is trampled underfoot and unpopular human rights defenders are subjected to harsh penalties. This behavior is in stark contrast to the principles of universal human rights.”

President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria (HAN), Mubarak Bala was sentenced to a 24-year prison sentence in April this year after he pled guilty to charges of ‘conducting himself in a manner likely to cause breach of public peace’ in connection with a series of Facebook posts deemed ‘blasphemous’ by some. Humanists International understands that Bala was subjected to pressure in order to secure a guilty plea. He is currently in the process of appealing his sentence.

Bala’s case has been mired with procedural irregularities, including:

  • Bala being held without charge for more than a year in contravention of Nigerian law;
  • The denial of access to his legal representatives for five months;
  • Repeated adjournments of court hearings;
  • The refusal of the Kano State Police Commissioner to comply with an order issued by a Magistrate requiring the police to grant Bala access to his legal team;
  • The failure of the Kano State authorities to comply with a ruling of the Abuja High Court that determined that Bala should be released on bail.

German Special Envoy on FoRB, Frank Schwabe

According to Mr Schwabe’s office’s website, speaking after the meeting, Mr Schwabe stated that,

“The freedom of one’s own worldview, including the freedom not to profess any religion, is constitutionally enshrined in Nigeria. It seems extremely disproportionate to me when an activist is sentenced to a prison term of this magnitude for a post that is critical of religion on social networks.”

In addition to the case of Mubarak Bala, the meeting also addressed the experience of humanists and atheists in Nigeria as a whole, especially those living in Muslim-dominated areas where Sharia law runs in parallel with the common law system.

Leo Igwe, Board Member of Humanists International

Speaking after the meeting, Leo Igwe stated:

“Mr. Schwabe’s visit is a welcome development for humanists and atheists in Nigeria. It is encouraging to know that the German government is taking the Mubarak Bala case seriously. Humanists rejoice that there is a Western government that sees humanists and atheists as people who deserve equal rights and freedoms. We hope that will be the case visit will lead to the release of Mubarak Bala and an improvement in the situation of humanists and atheists in the country.”

Over the course of the remainder of his visit to Nigeria, the German Special Envoy met with many other civil society actors exploring the role of religious communities in conflict resolution, as well as women’s rights in the country, as they are influenced by harmful traditional practices.

Headline image courtesy of Leo Igwe

Image of Frank Schwabe by Foto-AG Gymnasium Melle, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

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