On August 6, 2020 Humanists International published a letter by Nobel Prize winning writer Wole Soyinka in support of Mubarak Bala.
According to Humanists International’s campaign website, Mubarak Bala, President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was arrested on April 28, 2020 following allegations that he insulted Islam’s Prophet Muhammad on social media. Bala’s current arrest is not his first experience of systemic faith-based oppression. In 2014, Bala was detained on the grounds that he was an atheist.
In his letter, Soyinka wrote, “As a child I remember living in a state of harmonious coexistence all but forgotten in the Nigeria of today, as the plague of religious extremism has encroached.” Throughout Soyinka’s life, he has been a leading voice opposing injustice and corruption in Nigerian Society. Following a military coup in 1966, Soyinka sought to avert a Nigerian civil war. This attempt to work toward peace resulted in Soyinka’s imprisonment for 22 months.
Soyinka continued in his letter to Mubarak, “When I accepted the International Humanist Award at the World Humanist Congress in 2014, I spoke of the conflict between Humanists and Religionists; one of enlightenment versus the chains of enslavement. Your arbitrary incommunicado detention over the last 100 days is the cruel reality of this conflict. All too often these chains of enslavement lead directly to the gallows or a prison cell.“
Harassment, imprisonment and other forms of violence and oppression by authoritarian ideological regimes is both an ancient and a contemporary theme. In recent years, one need only recall the cases of Raif Badawi, Noreen “Asia” Bibi, Avijit Roy and a long-list of others from nations around the world to recall that freedom of expression may be contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but it is far from universally protected.
Mubarak’s legal team claims that they have been unable to access Mubarak and have asked Nigerian authorities to clarify where he’s being held.
Humanists International has stated that their perspective that Bala is being targeted solely for exercising his rights of freedom of belief and freedom of expression, as contained in international and regional instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory as well as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution.
Despite the modest media attention that Mubarak Bala’s case has created and may continue to receive, the plight of a Nigerian humanist and human rights activist is still quite far from the attention or concern for those who may currently be living in ideologically comfortable settings. Perhaps letting this situation slip one’s notice is a dangerous apathy. We may not be so very far removed from extreme embodiments of ideological cancel cultures as we would like to think.
Signing Humanists International’s statement regarding Mubarak Bala could be an excellent place to show support for global freedom of expression and opposition to all forms of ideological oppression.
Citations and References
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Version History: This article was originally published on August 8, 2020 and was updated on August 9, 2020.