Mubarak’s story – Nigeria
Mubarak Bala faces a 24-year prison sentence for Facebook posts questioning whether there is life after death.
Themes: Blasphemy, freedom of thought, freedom of expression
Mubarak Bala is a self-identified atheist from Kano State in northeast Nigeria. He became well known in 2014 when the media reported that he had been forcibly drugged and committed to a psychiatric unit by his family members after telling them he was atheist. He was released shortly thereafter and became an outspoken advocate for Nigerian atheist rights and freedoms. Until his arrest, Mubarak resided in Kaduna State, about 130 miles south of Kano, and served as the President of the Nigerian Humanist Association.
Mubarak Bala was arrested on April 28, 2020, reportedly for a Facebook post in which he allegedly insulted Prophet Muhammad, by saying “Fact is, you have no life after this one. You have been dead before, long before you were born, billions of years of death.” The arrest followed a petition by a group of lawyers to the Kano State Police Commissioner to prosecute Mubarak for posting things on Facebook that are “provocative and annoying to Muslims,” and an online petition to close Mubarak’s Facebook account.
Kaduna State police, in response to a request from Kano State police, arrested Mubarak in his home in Kaduna State. He was then transferred to Kano State police custody, where he was held without charge over more than a year. In December a federal court in the capital, Abuja, determined Mubarak’s detention unconstitutional and ordered authorities in Kano to either charge Mubarak with a crime under secular law or release him. In August 2021, a court charged Mubarak under customary law with 10 counts of causing a public disturbance in connection to “blasphemous” Facebook posts he is alleged to have made over the course of April 2020.
After 600 days in detention, his wife Amina said she hoped her husband of two years can come home soon but thinks Nigeria could be a dangerous place to build their lives. She worries about the emotional effect on their son, who was born six weeks before Mubarak’s arrest. “He has a lovely son that barely knows him,” she said during a recent visit to Mubarak’s prison. “My neighbours are home. They are with their husbands and their children. I feel like, ‘Why is mine not like them?’”
On April 5, 2022, the Kano State High Court sentenced Mubarak to 24 years in prison after convicting him of 18 counts of causing a public disturbance.