May 4, 2020
Congresswoman Karen Bass
4929 Wilshire Blvd., Ste 650
Los Angeles, CA 90010
Dear Congresswoman Bass:
RE: Detention of Mubarak Bala, President of the Nigerian Humanist Association
I’m the founder of Black Skeptics Los Angeles, a South Los Angeles based education and advocacy organization for African American humanists, atheists, skeptics, and freethinkers. I’m writing to appeal for urgent human rights action on the detention of Mubarak Bala, President of the Nigerian Humanist Association. On April 28th, Bala was arrested at his home in Kaduna in Northern Nigeria, reputedly for making blasphemous comments about Islam, which carries a potential death penalty under Sharia Law. Throughout the African continent, African secularists disproportionately face harassment, discrimination, stigma, and vilification in traditionally religious African communities.
Mr Bala’s arrest followed a petition filed with the Police Commissioner of Kano Command on April 27th by a local law firm alleging that Bala insulted the Prophet Muhammad in his Facebook posts in violation of Section 26(1)(c) of the Cybercrimes Act, which criminalizes insult of any persons due to their belonging to a group distinguished by their religion, among other characteristics, and is punishable by a fine and/or up to five years’ imprisonment. The petitioners also allege that Mr Bala’s posts will incite the Muslim community and lead to public disturbance, a violation of Section 210 of the Penal Code of Kano State. For more information, please see the attached briefing.
On April 30th, the Police Commissioner for Kaduna State confirmed that Mr Bala had been released to Kano State Police Command. According to his legal team, the Commissioner of Kano State Police Command has not yet confirmed that Bala is in their custody.
Since renouncing Islam in 2014, Mr Bala has been the victim of death threats and harassment. In June the same year, he was held against his will in a psychiatric facility in Kano state. As such, Humanists International and its member organizations are deeply concerned for his welfare.
Black Skeptics Los Angeles fears that Mr Bala is being targeted solely for his exercise of his rights of freedom of belief and freedom of expression, as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution and international and regional instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory.
As chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, we are calling on you to regard this as a human rights issue of grave concern and take action to urge the Nigerian authorities to do the following:
- Clarify Mr Bala’s legal status and his whereabouts, and release him, immediately and unconditionally, if he was not charged within the 24-hour time frame stipulated in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria;
- Grant Mr Bala free and unimpeded access to his legal counsel;
- Transfer Mr Bala to a neutral territory, such as Lagos, where it is more likely that he will receive a fair trial, if any trial against him were to take place;
- Guarantee Mr Bala’s well-being and safety while he remains in detention, particularly in light of the many death threats he has received and the increased risks posed to him as a prisoner during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any questions.
Black Skeptics Los Angeles