Nigeria: U.S. Unhappy Over Jailing of Nigerians for Blasphemy

Judge's gavel (file photo)
15 May 2021

The United States government has criticised how Nigerian courts have continued to sentence citizens to long jail terms for blasphemy and death.

The US position was disclosed by the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, during the release of the 2020 International Religious Freedom Report this week.

He wondered why the Nigerian government has not brought anyone to justice for the "massacre" of members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria also known as Shiites.

Quoting the report, the Blinken said, "In Nigeria, courts continue to convict people of blasphemy, sentencing them to long-term imprisonment or even death. Yet the government has still not brought anyone to justice for the military's massacre of hundreds of Shia Muslims in 2015."

He further stressed that religious freedom is a human right and the freedom enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adding that America would continue to defend freedom of faith globally.

"Religious freedom, like every human right, is universal. All people, everywhere, are entitled to it no matter where they live, what they believe, or what they don't believe.

"Religious freedom can't be fully realised unless other human rights are respected, and when governments violate their people's right to believe and worship freely, it jeopardises all the others," the US State Secretary noted.

The Shiites have for over five years been regularly taking to the streets particularly in Abuja to demand the release of their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, and his wife, Zeenat.

Both of them have been in detention since December 2015 after a bloody clash between members of the group and soldiers in the convoy of the former Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, in Zaria, Kaduna State.

Many Shiites members were reportedly killed by soldiers but the Nigerian Army has since denied such allegation.

On February 28, 2020, a Facebook user, Mbarak Bala, was arrested and detained in Kaduna for alleged blasphemous posts about Islam.

A 35-year-old atheist, Mubarak Bala, had also spent months in detention without trial for allegedly blaspheming Prophet Muhammed.

A Kano-based musician, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu was also accused of committing blasphemy against the Prophet in a song he circulated via WhatsApp in March 2020. He was later sentenced to death by hanging by the Kano Upper Shari'a Court.

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