For readers who aren’t familiar with Mubarak Bala’s case, here’s a quick primer.
Mubaak Bala is a chemical engineer by profession. He left Islam in 2014 and when he came out as an atheist, his father had him forcibly detained and medicated in a psychiatric facility for eighteen days. In a statement he put out after being released, Bala said:
To those who have made threats against me, I urge you to reason and learn to tolerate opinions other than yours. Education and free speech cannot be cured, but love for humanity is our panacea, we share the same destiny. All that I have said is in good will that we may all prosper and learn the facts of life.
Mubarak Bala, 2014
Since then he’s grown as an activist and leader in the humanist community and has simultaneously been on the receiving end of numerous death threats.
On April 27, 2020, a local law firm filed a petition with the Police in Kano alleging that Bala committed two crimes. First, the petition alleges that Bala insulted the Prophet Muhammad in his Facebook posts in violation of Section 26(1) (c) of the Cyber crimes Act, which criminalizes insult of any persons due to their religion, among other characteristics, and is punishable by a fine and/or up to five years’ imprisonment. We have however learned that a court in Nigeria has granted Mubarak Bala’s legal team access to see him. It now falls on the Police Commissioner to follow the necessary process in compliance with the order.
Second, the petitioners allege that 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. Bala was arrested in Kaduna State the next day. And the day after that, after police in Kaduna transferred him to police in Kano, he disappeared. Police in Kano have neither confirmed Bala’s location nor issued any public charges against him.
There are a lot of unknowns right now, and we are worried. We fear for the ways Bala’s rights have already been denied; he’s had no access to legal counsel, and the Nigerian constitution stipulates that he should have been released more than a week ago if no charges were filed. We fear for his safety; the lapse in accountability over Mubarak’s whereabouts is extremely troubling. And we fear for his health; given the fact that COVID-19 is ravaging prisons and immigrant detention centers (aka prisons), Bala’s detention puts him at greater risk of contracting the disease.
So much of what has happened to Bala is difficult to fathom.
The Atheists In Kenya Society’s believers in freedom of expression and religion. These rights are supposed to be inherent.
Sadly, human rights aren’t inherent. They must be fought for and affirmed loudly and repeatedly on an international stage. AIK has written to the Nigerian Human Rights Commission and the Minister for Justice in Nigeria protesting about Bala’s arrest and unlawful detention.
We urge the State Department and US 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.
Advocacy is only one piece of a larger campaign to pressure Nigeria to protect Mubarak Bala’s health, safety, and rights. I urge anyone and everyone to join the grassroots campaign in support of Bala. Tweet, sign a petition, donate to his legal fund, share news about his detention with friends and colleagues.
Each person who speaks out adds to a large and united chorus of support—support that is important not only to the pressure-driving campaign, but also to Bala’s mental health. If and when Bala finally has access to legal counsel, they’ll share with him the breadth of support behind him, which can go a long way toward stemming the isolation and desperation felt during incarceration.
Visit FreeMubarakBala.org for more information and to get involved. Each voice matters right now. Please add your