Nigerian atheist jailed 24 years for blasphemy

A Nigerian atheist has been sentenced to 24 years in prison by a high court in the northern state of Kano after being convicted of blaspheming Islam.

Mubarak Bala, the 37-year-old president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, pleaded guilty to all 18 charges and asked for leniency.

He has been in detention since 2020.

A group of Muslims had filed a petition to the authorities accusing Bala of posting uncomplimentary messages about Islam on social media.

Kano has a majority Muslim population. It is one of around a dozen states in northern Nigeria where Islamic lawsare practiced alongside secular laws.

Bala could have faced a death penalty if he was tried in an Islamic court.

United Nations (UN) human rights experts and international rights groups had condemned his detention and called for his release.

Bala renounced his Islamic faith in 2014. He was then reportedly taken to a psychiatric hospital before being discharged.

He was arrested in 2020 in neighbouring Kaduna state, and transferred to Kano, his home state.

Nigeria is Africa’s most-populous country and most people in its mainly Muslim north and the largely Christian south are deeply religious.

Most do not fully understand the language, but this small Nigerian community claims Jewish ancestry dating back hundreds of years – and they are left frustrated by a lack of recognition by Israel.

Outside the Gihon Hebrew Synagogue in the suburb of Jikwoyi, a table is laid inside a tent built from palm leaves to celebrate Sukkot, a festival that commemorates the years Jews spent in the desert on their way to the Promised Land.

Many Igbos believe they have Jewish heritage, one of the so-called 10 lost tribes of Israel, however, most are not practising Jews. They comprise less than 0.1 per cent of the estimated 35 million Igbos.

These tribes were said to have disappeared after being taken into captivity when the northern Israelite kingdom was conquered in the 8th Century BC – and the Ethiopian Jewish community, for example, was recognised as one of them.

Igbo customs such as male circumcision, mourning the dead for seven days, celebrating the new moon and conducting wedding ceremonies under a canopy have reinforced this belief about their Jewish heritage. -BBC

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