Christian Entity Denounces Sentencing of Nigerian Activist, Says “excessively punitive”

Mubarak Bala. Credit: CSW

A High Court in Nigeria’s Kano State has sentenced the president of the Nigerian Humanist Society to 24 years behind bars on blasphemy charges, a decision that Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has described as a “gross violation” of the right to the freedoms of expression.

Mubarak Bala who converted from Islam has been detained since 28 April 2020, when he was arrested at his home in Nigeria’s Kaduna State following a petition to the Kano State Police Commissioner by a law firm in Kano, accusing him of insulting Islam in Facebook posts. 

In a Wednesday, April 6 report, CSW's Founder President Mervyn Thomas laments the fact that Mr. Bala has undergone unimaginable suffering at the hands of the authorities, and adds, “He has now received a sentence which is disproportionate to the alleged crime.”

Mr. Bala’s sentencing, Mr. Mervyn says, “constitutes a gross violation of his right to the freedoms of expression, thought, conscience, and belief.”

“A grave injustice has occurred,” the President of the UK-headquartered team of specialist advocates that works on over 20 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, to ensure that the right to freedom of religion or belief is upheld and protected says in the April 6 report.


He adds, “CSW calls for the urgent review of this excessively punitive sentence, and of Nigeria’s blasphemy legislation, which ought to be repealed.”

“Blasphemy accusations are highly subjective, creating inconsistencies in the application of the law. They also foster and sustain extreme religious sentiment, and are wholly incompatible with Nigeria’s obligations under international law,” Mr. Mervyn explains.

At the April 5 sentencing, Mr. Bala was convicted of 18 counts of causing public disturbance under Sections 210 and 114 of the Kano State Penal Code.

CSW reports that following his arrest in 2020, the Nigerian activist was transported to Kano State where he was held incommunicado for the first 162 days of his detention, was denied access to his legal team for five months, and spent 462 days in prison before being formally charged. 

His lawyer says, in the April 6 CSW report, that while in prison, Mr. Bala was denied medical care and forced to worship “the Islamic way.”

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CSW reports that a ruling by the Federal High Court in Abuja on 21 December 2020 ordering Mr. Bala’s release on bail and compensation was disregarded.

Mr. Mervyn laments that since his arrest in 2020, Mr. Bala’s rights have been “violated comprehensively.”

“He (Bala) has endured lengthy periods of arbitrary and pre-trial detention, and has had limited access to his wife, young son, and legal counsel,” CSW Founder President says.

During the hearing on 5 April, Mr. Bala, 37, is said to have pleaded guilty to all 18 charges against the advice of his lawyer and reportedly asked for leniency, stating his Facebook posts were not intended to cause offense, and that he would take care not to repeat the error.

Nevertheless, the presiding judge, Justice Faruk Lawan, who reportedly warned Mr. Bala that his rights ended where those of others began, handed down the 24-year sentence.


The judge ordered that the 24-year term would commence from the day he was arrested, and that the sentences for all 18 charges run concurrently.

CSW has reported that this is the second time Mr. Bala has been detained on account of his belief. 

In June 2014, Mr. Bala was reportedly assaulted, then forcibly committed to the psychiatric ward of the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital in his home state of Kano for 18 days by members of his family after renouncing Islam.

CSW leadership has faulted the Nigerian Judicial system, saying, “While Nigeria’s constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion or belief, blasphemy is prohibited under Section 204 of the country’s Criminal Code.”

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.