By: Lynda Tilley
In April 2020, Humanists worldwide were shocked to learn of the arrest of Mubarak Bala, President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria. Mubarak is well known in Africa and was active on social media, which is where most African Humanists “meet”. It’s safer that way, as in each of our countries we are judged for turning our backs on religion and in several countries we face the death sentence for being openly Irreligious.
It was a post Mubarak made on Facebook, speaking out against Prophet Muhammed that led to his arrest. It was seen to be “blasphemous”, and “blasphemy” is considered a crime in Nigeria – punishable for up to 2 years under Customary Law (which is practiced throughout all Nigerian States) and by death under Shari’a Law (any State has the power to establish their own courts under Shari’a Law, especially if the accused is Muslim.)
Mubarak’s father’s role in his arrest
Mubarak first made news in 2014 when his father, Muhammed Bala, forcibly had him drugged and admitted to a mental ward for denouncing Islam and declaring he was an Atheist. (Atheism is viewed as a ‘mental illness’ by some.) But thanks to the worldwide Humanist community and a hospital strike, he was discharged.
His father is a ‘respected’ Islamic scholar and his son’s Atheism supposedly brought unforgivable “shame and dishonour” on his family. It is widely accepted amongst African Humanists and those close to Mubarak personally, that his father is behind his recent arrest and prolonged imprisonment – despite him being a devout and ‘respected’ follower of the so called “Religion of Peace”.
Nigeria’s Constitution guarantees “the rights of “freedom of thought, expression & religion” so the fact that “blasphemy” is considered a crime, violates International Human Rights terms, which are protected by all major Human Rights agreements, which Nigeria is signatory to.
Continued Human Rights abuses
For the first 5 months after his arrest, aside from being told that he’d been transferred to the Muslim State of Kano, (a State renowned for its practice of Shar’ia Law) nobody knew exactly where he was, or even if he were still alive.
His wife, Amina Ahmed, had just given birth to their first child, a son, 6 weeks prior to his disappearance and was distraught – pleading publically in national media for “Proof of Life”. Dr Leo Igwe, personal friend of Mubarak’s and also a renowned Nigerian Human Rights Advocate and founder of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, spearheaded the campaign to raise awareness for Mubarak’s plight and Humanists around the world gave Nigeria their support.
A person must be charged within 24 hours of their arrest, or otherwise released, but (as was found out much later) Mubarak was only formally detained the following month, and without legal counsel or appearing in court was formally charged under Customary Law for 10 “public disturbances caused in relation to 5 Facebook posts” which falls under Nigeria’s ‘Cybercrimes Act’.
Mubarak’s legal team were denied any contact with him until almost 6 months after his arrest, when only 1 lawyer was allowed to briefly see him – to date this is the only meeting he’s been allowed with his lawyer in the 19 months he’s been held.
In the interim, his lawyers filed a petition to enforce his Fundamental Rights, which according to the law, is a matter of urgency and must be heard within 7 days – it was heard after 164 days and it was determined that he was being illegally detained which was a gross violation of his Human Rights.
In view of this, the Abuja Federal High Court (which is in the predominantly Christian Kaduna State, operating under Customary Law) ordered his immediate release in December 2020. To date, this order of the High Court has been ignored.
African Humanist groups unite to support Nigeria
In the interim, Humanists around the world have continued their support and African Humanists have joined together online to support Nigeria, all who had never ‘met’ before. The ironic thing is that by silencing one Humanist, so many more have spoken out and are now united in a way they were never before.
We have individual Humanists as well as groups from South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya who have now all connected and are in almost daily contact – sharing the trials we face in each of our countries, discussing things which relate to us all – like Human Rights, overhauling Africa’s outdated school education system and introducing Critical Thinking and a more Science based approach to learning and working towards a Secular Africa where religion plays no part in our schools or governments.
We are gaining strength from each other and some countries are speaking to each other for the first time – all thanks to Mubarak Bala, yet he doesn’t even know it !
Mubarak’s lawyers filed a 2nd Fundamental Rights Petition in January this year, (to be held urgently within 7 days, by law) – 11 months have since passed. Court dates are set and then typically postponed 2 to 3 times with reasons like “the judge is in ill health” being given.
The next court date is in December, and Mubarak has not attended any of them so far.
He has a chronic condition and since the day of his arrest, has been denied his daily chronic medication and access to a Doctor, even when he was very sick a few months ago. He was told he was “faking it to try and escape”.
This is in violation of the United Nations “Minimum Rules For Prisoners Act” but despite requests and his lawyers following the legal process to request this, nothing has yet been done.
Despite not being allowed visitors, it was hoped that he would be allowed to see his wife and son before the end of the year, but that was refused. His son turns 2 early next year and he is growing up without even knowing his father and being raised alone by his strong yet heartbroken mother, who has been in her own personal prison almost 2 years now, too.
In September, 4 Human Rights lawyers wrote a letter to Nigeria’s President Buhari and published it in national newspapers, giving the facts of the case and asked, once again, for him to be transferred to a prison in Abuja, Kaduna State (where he stands a better chance of having a fair trial), to treat the second Fundamental Rights case as the emergency that it is and to restore his rights as guaranteed in the Nigerian Constitution.
To date, there has been no response.
Those who hold him are reportedly pleased that (especially since he is an avid reader and writer) Mubarak is denied reading and writing material and “has been silenced and can no longer poison people’s minds with evil lies from the West”.
His supporters, upon learning this, along with his wife, decided to publish a series of quotes taken from his speeches, interviews, newspaper articles and writing when he was still a free man – so that his words and his truths are never silenced and to show that by silencing his voice, many others have lent theirs in its place.
Please help us to keep Mubarak’s case in the spotlight !
A quote is posted each day on our Facebook campaign page and is forwarded worldwide from there – some have been printed in newsletters as far away as New Zealand, as his silenced voice now reaches around the world !
It’s been 19 months since his arrest but we will never give up on him. We ask the worldwide Humanist community to please continue their support – our African governments take much more notice when there is international interest in a case like this and we need to show them that Mubarak will never be forgotten.
We’re in the process of launching a website in Mubarak’s name, to reach a wider global audience and it has the input of Humanists from across Africa. This will hopefully be live sometime in December – to be announced on our Facebook page.
Please visit, “like” and share the above, publish or re post articles about his case, put pressure on your own governments by writing to them to request his release and let fellow Humanists in your communities know of his plight – every single action, no matter how small, will help to put unwelcome pressure on Nigeria and to eventually secure his release !
Citations, References And Other Reading
- Featured Photo Courtesy of: www.musingsfromafrica.com
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