MPs raise Mubarak Bala case in Westminster Hall debate

7 February, 2024

Pictured: Humanists UK’s #FreeMubarakBala protest outside the Nigerian High Commission, London, 2022

MPs have raised the case of Mubarak Bala, imprisoned President of the Nigerian Humanist Association, at a debate in Westminster Hall on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Nigeria. The debate was secured by Jim Shannon (Democratic Unionist Party), Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Freedom of Religion or Belief (APPG FoRB) – of which Humanists UK is a stakeholder. 

Humanists UK has been calling for Bala’s release since he was arrested in April 2020. Two years later, Bala was convicted and sentenced to 24 years’ imprisonment for posting ‘blasphemous’ content on Facebook following an unfair trial: it was repeatedly delayed and the charges against him were duplicated. Procedural irregularities were rife. Bala remained incarcerated without charge for well over a year. He was denied access to his lawyers and family for an extended period. He was denied medical attention. The Abuja High Court’s ruling that he be released on bail was ignored by Kano State authorities. His case exemplifies the need to abolish blasphemy laws, which intrinsically contravene the right to freedom of religion or belief.

During the debate, Jim Shannon said that he, alongside other members of the APPG FoRB has visited Nigeria in 2022:

‘We used our visit to speak to some of the judiciary and judges in Nigeria… and made a very good case for the release of Mubarak. We thought we had made some headway on that, and the indications coming from the judiciary seemed to say that, but he is still in prison.’

Shadow Foreign Minister Lyn Brown said:

‘I can understand the anxiety about states in Nigeria continuing to imprison people for exercising religious freedoms. We all know the case of Mubarak Bala.’

Humanists UK campaigns for freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) around the world, particularly for non-religious people facing persecution. In many countries it is impossible to be openly non-religious. Laws that criminalise blasphemy and apostasy are often the source of such persecution – as they were in Mubarak Bala’s case. The repeal of such laws is therefore a vital step in guaranteeing FoRB for all.

Director of Public Affairs and Policy Kathy Riddick commented:

‘We thank Jim Shannon MP for securing the debate and raising the case of our colleague Mubarak Bala who has been imprisoned simply for expressing his humanist beliefs. 

‘The situation for humanists in Nigeria is dire. Blasphemy and apostasy are punishable by death and this is used to falsely justify the social persecution of the non-religious. Particularly worrying is that Nigeria is on the ‘safe country list’ under the Illegal Migration Act, which means that non-religious asylum seekers may face great risks if they are deported there.

‘We continue to call on the government to use all channels available to advocate for the repeal of all blasphemy and apostasy laws, and to secure not only the release of Mubarak, but the release of those convicted or imprisoned under such laws.’

Notes

For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Kathy Riddick at press@humanists.uk or phone 07534 248 596.

Read more about our international work.

Read Humanist International’s Freedom of Thought Report.

Read the whole debate on Hansard.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 120,000 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.