Nigerian Musician Files Lawsuit with Supreme Court Challenging Blasphemy Conviction

Map of Nigeria. | Shutterstock

A Nigerian musician is taking a case to the country’s Supreme Court challenging a death sentence he was given in 2020 for “blasphemy,” a case his lawyers hope will overturn the harsh blasphemy laws that have plagued the country’s Christians and other religious minorities for years. 

Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, a Sufi Muslim, was first convicted and sentenced to death in August 2020 under the state’s Sharia-based blasphemy law, which criminalizes disrespect for the prophet Muhammed. The law is administered by Kano State, which is located in an area that has suffered from the repression and persecution of Christians by Boko Haram in recent years. 

Sharif-Aminu is bringing his appeal with support from ADF International, a faith-based legal group. According to the group, Sharif-Aminu was convicted in 2020 — despite not having legal representation — after sharing audio messages on WhatsApp of a song he composed, which the court deemed blasphemous toward the prophet Muhammed. Though that first conviction was overturned in 2021, he is now awaiting a retrial, where he could face the death penalty once more. He is currently in prison without bail. 

ADF International says his Supreme Court appeal has the potential to overturn Northern Nigeria’s blasphemy laws, thus enabling Christian converts, minority Muslims, and others to speak more freely about their faith and to be protected from the community violence that blasphemy accusations frequently bring with them. At least 12 northern Nigerian states follow Sharia law and have blasphemy laws. Sharia courts hand down sentences that include floggings, amputation, and the death penalty depending on the crime, the BBC reported.

The violence sparked by blasphemy charges is well-documented in Nigeria. In May, a Christian college student, Deborah Yakubu, was beaten and stoned to death and her body burned by a Muslim mob. It apparently began when she said in WhatsApp messages that Jesus Christ helped her to perform well on an exam. That killing took place in northern Nigeria, in Sokoto, a city home to the sultan who serves as the top religious authority for Nigeria’s 100 million Muslims. Rioters later that week rampaged into a Catholic church compound in Sokoto and attacked other Christian-owned properties. 


“We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will finally declare these blasphemy laws to be unconstitutional and in direct violation of international human rights law,” said Kelsey Zorzi, director of advocacy for Global Religious Freedom at ADFI.

“As a country with immense influence throughout Africa and the Muslim world, Nigeria has an unprecedented opportunity to lead the way toward abolishing draconian blasphemy laws that continue to plague minorities around the globe.”

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation, almost evenly split between Christians and Muslims. Nigeria’s Christians, especially in the northern part of the country, have for the past several decades been subjected to brutal property destruction, killings, and kidnappings, often at the hands of Islamic extremist groups. Nigerian Christians have told CNA that the Muslim-controlled government has largely responded slowly, inadequately, or not at all to the problem of Christian persecution.

For the second year in a row, Nigeria was left off of the U.S. State Department’s list of countries that engage in or tolerate the world’s worst religious freedom violations, despite regular reports of kidnappings and killings of Christians, sparking outcry from members of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). 

Jonah McKeown is a staff writer and assistant podcast producer for Catholic News Agency. He holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism and in the past has worked as a writer, as a producer for public radio, and as a videographer.