UN experts call for urgent release of Nigerian humanist Mubarak Bala

24 July, 2020

UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Ahmed Shaheed led the call.

Eleven United Nations experts, including six special rapporteurs, have come together to call for the Nigerian Government to immediately release the President of the Nigerian Humanist Association, Mubarak Bala, from jail. Bala has been in detention for the last 87 days, after being accused of blasphemy, which carries the death sentence. He has not been charged, and has been denied access to his lawyers. Humanists UK has welcomed the experts’ call.

The call is made jointly by Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; the five members of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; and Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

It follows a previous letter they wrote to the Nigerian Government about the matter in May, which was ignored, prompting this public action.

In today’s call, the experts say:

‘We are deeply concerned over the serious lack of due process in Mr Bala’s case. He has reportedly not had access to a lawyer nor been allowed family visits and has been transferred and detained in Kano state, without charge, since his arrest in neighbouring Kaduna on 28 April 2020.

‘The arrest and detention of Mr. Bala amounts to persecution of non-believers in Nigeria. We are concerned that he may be prosecuted under anti-blasphemy laws that provide for capital punishment in Nigeria. The application of the death penalty for alleged “blasphemy” is a flagrant violation of Nigeria’s international human rights law obligations.

‘We are also gravely concerned about Mr. Bala’s safety, while in detention, in light of the death threats against him, and further fear that he may be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment due to his atheistic beliefs… No one should be arbitrarily detained or arrested for expressing peacefully their opinion, thought and conscience or for simply being an atheist.’

Separately it has been reported today by Humanists International that the Police Commissioner in Kano has been refusing to comply with a 16 July court order, which says that he should be granting Bala access to his legal team, on the basis that the order does not specifically instruct the police itself to comply.

Responding to this, Andrew Copson, who is Chief Executive of Humanists UK but who was commenting in his capacity as President of Humanists International, said:

‘The excuse from the police commissioner is ridiculous and his behaviour is lawless. The wording of the court’s order is clear. Mubarak Bala must be given access to his legal team. If there is to be any justice at all, his arbitrary detention of 87 days without charge must also end.’

Humanists International has been coordinating international efforts to free Mubarak Bala, and has produced a briefing and action paper. Humanists UK has today again raised Mubarak’s case with the UK Government, and urged it to again raise his plight with Nigeria. The Government previously did this after meeting with Andrew.


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 020 3675 0959.

Read the United Nations’ press release about Mubarak Bala.

Read the letter the UN experts sent to Nigeria in May.

Humanists UK is a member of Humanists International, which coordinates the End Blasphemy Laws campaign and produces the annual Freedom of Thought Report on global persecution against the religious.

Read Humanists International’s statement today on Mubarak Bala.

Read our previous news item on Mubarak Bala.

Read more about our work on international freedom of religion or belief.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.