Self-identified atheist from Kano State in northeast Nigeria
Apr 28, 2020
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, Bala resided in Kaduna State, about 130 miles south of Kano, and served as the President of the Nigerian Humanist Association.
Bala was arrested on April 28, 2020, reportedly for a Facebook post in which he allegedly insulted Prophet Muhammad. The post reportedly read, “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 Bala for posting things on Facebook that are “provocative and annoying to Muslims,” and a Change.org petition to close Bala’s Facebook account.
Bala has not yet been formally charged. Advocates believe he may be charged with blasphemy under Section 210 of the Penal Code of Kano State, and/or with violating Section 26(1)(c) of the Cyber-crimes Act, which criminalizes insult of any persons due to their belonging to a group distinguished by their religion, among other characteristics. A blasphemy conviction under Kano’s Shari’a court could lead to a death sentence, and if found guilty of violating the Cybercrimes Act he could face a fine and up to five years in prison.
Kaduna State police, in response to a request from Kano State police, arrested Bala 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 Bala’s detention unconstitutional and ordered authorities in Kano to either charge Bala with a crime under secular law or release him. In August 2021, a court charged Bala 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. He remains in detention and a date for his trial has yet to be scheduled.