19.05.2020
Human Rights Without Frontiers & USCIRF

USCIRF condemns arrest of prominent Nigerian atheist, Mubarak Bala

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today expressed its deep concern regarding the recent arrest of Mubarak Bala, president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria.

Mr. Bala was detained in Kaduna State on April 28, 2020, and was reportedly transferred to the Kano State Police. His current whereabouts and wellbeing are unknown. No charges have been filed, and it is unclear if Mr. Bala has been allowed access to his legal counsel. The arrest followed a petition filed with Kano State Police by a local law firm that alleges Mr. Bala insulted the Prophet Muhammad in his Facebook posts.  

USCIRF Chair Tony Perkins stated,

“USCIRF is alarmed by this arrest, which appears to be for Mubarak Bala’s peaceful exercise of his rights to both freedom of expression and freedom of belief. The fact that Kano State frequently enforces Shari'a law makes the situation particularly worrisome. Nigerian authorities must immediately clarify Mr. Bala’s situation, ensure his safety, and provide him the full protections he is guaranteed under the Nigerian Constitution and international law.”

USCIRF has analyzed and expressed concern about blasphemy laws in Africa and the state enforcement of Shari’a laws in northern Nigeria, including Kano State. To learn more, read the reports: Blasphemy, Apostasy, and Hate Speech Laws in Africa and Shari'ah Criminal Law in Northern Nigeria.

USCIRF Commissioner Anurima Bhargava added,

“USCIRF welcomes the statement by Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback about his concern for Mubarak Bala’s arrest. We urge the State Department and U.S. Embassy in Nigeria to continue to sound the alarm about Mr. Bala’s arrest with the Nigerian federal government. The matter is urgent; Nigerian state authorities have refused to provide any information and Mr. Bala's safety in custody is of serious concern.”

In its 2020 Annual Report, USCIRF designated Nigeria as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act for engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. The Annual Report includes specific recommendations for U.S. foreign policy in order to improve the religious freedom conditions in Nigeria.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze, and report on threats to religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief. To interview a Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at  or Danielle Ashbahian at .

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