Advocacy statements

Victims of arbitrary detention: Mubarak Bala and Shakthika Sathkumara

  • Date / 2020
  • Location / Nigeria
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 3: Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights


International Humanist and Ethical Union

45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (14 September – 2 October 2020)

General Debate on Item 3

Speaker: Kacem El Ghazzali

Arbitrary detention is one of the most serious violations of human rights; it not only deprives detainees of their liberty, but also denies them access to legal means of defense, making them vulnerable to ill-treatment, torture or forcible disappearance.

Often those who have been arbitrarily detained are among the most vocal advocates of freedom of expression. They include writers, activists and feminists who stand for universal human rights.

One of the most blatant examples of how arbitrary arrests and detentions are used to silence freethinkers is the case of Mubarak Bala, who was arrested by Nigerian police for a Facebook post that was deemed an insult to the Prophet Mohammed. More than 140 days have passed since Bala’s arrest, and Bala has not yet been formally charged.

In another case, this time from Sri Lanka, the writer Shakthika Sathkumara was arbitrarily detained for 127 days in 2019 on suspicion of insulting Buddhists. Madame President, clearly when states criminalize blasphemy and restrict artistic freedom they do so in contradiction to their international human rights obligations. Detention of writers and activists, without granting them the right to fair trial, further compounds the grievous harm caused. Such blatant violations require a strong denunciation on the part of this Council.

We call for the immediate and unconditional release of Mubarak Bala and for no charges to be made against Sathkumara. We urge members and observers concerned about arbitrary detention and the right to free expression and belief to do the same.

Suggested academic reference

'Victims of arbitrary detention: Mubarak Bala and Shakthika Sathkumara', Humanists International

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