Wed, 02 Jun 2021 Feature Article

Freedom of Religion or Belief and Non-Religious Persecution in Nigeria

Freedom of Religion or Belief and Non-Religious Persecution in Nigeria

All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group Chair, Baroness Bakewell, Other distinguished parliamentarians,

Fellow Humanists, Ladies and Gentlemen.

When our forebears enshrined in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the right to freedom of religion or belief, they acknowledged the inalienability of the right to think and believe freely. They recognized that for societies to prosper and flourish, and for human beings to live in peace and harmony, governments must guarantee the equal right to freedom of thought and conscience for people of all faiths and none, in all places and at all times.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for non-religious persons, humanists, atheists, agnostics in many places across the world. In Nigeria, the right to freedom of religion or belief is under serious assault from religious fanatics and their state allies. The right to freedom of religion or belief is flagrantly abused. The right to believe or not believe is denied with impunity. As the case of Mubarak Bala illustrates, people who profess no religion or hold views that are critical of religious beliefs suffer systemic discrimination, persecution, and oppression.

Mr. Bala, president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was born into a Muslim family in Kano State, in northern Nigeria. But he came out as an ex Muslim in 2014. Following his renunciation of Islam, family members took him to a mental hospital, where he was treated as a patient. For the family, Mr. Bala must be mentally sick or completely out of his mind to reject the Islamic faith. Humanists in Nigeria and across the world launched an international campaign that led to the release of Mr. Bala from the hospital. Since then Mr Bala has constantly been harassed and threatened with murder and violence for openly and publicly expressing his views and opinions.

On April 28, 2020, police arrested Mr. Bala at his residence in Kaduna. His arrest happened following a petition by some Muslim lawyers that he made a post on Facebook that insulted the prophet of Islam. To appease the Islamic establishment, the police disappeared him for several months. They denied him access to his lawyer and family visits. Muslim fanatics threatened to murder him anywhere they found him. One year after his illegal detention, the police have yet to formally charge or prosecute Mr. Bala despite a court order that he be released on bail.

People who profess no religion live in constant fear of their lives and safety. They live in fear of being tortured or disappeared, summarily executed, or taken to a mental hospital for leaving a religion or for holding and expressing blasphemous views and opinions. They live in fear of being attacked and killed for offending religious sensibilities.The right to freedom of religion or belief is linked to the right to freedom of expression, education and learning. As the Algerian author Said Djabekhir noted: "The fight for freedom of conscience is non-negotiable. It is a fight which must continue.". And yes it is a fight that we must win

For this fight to succeed, and the right to freedom of religion or belief to be respected and guaranteed, your action and intervention is needed in Nigeria and across the region. Thank you