The Humanist Association of Nigeria has faulted the United States Government for removing Nigeria from the list of countries violating religious freedom even as its President, Mubarak Bala, has remained in detention for the last 19 months without trial for blasphemy.
In a statement by the Founder, Humanist Association of Nigeria, Leo Igwe, the group stated that it was appalled by the decision of the US.
In a statement titled, ‘Humanists Outraged by US Removal of Nigeria from Religious Freedom Blacklist’, the association said the removal of Nigeria from the list is a betrayal of the humanist community and other minorities that suffer persecutions across the country.
“Nigerian humanist, Mubarak Bala, remains in custody for committing no crime. He has been held for over a year without prosecution. The de-listing of Nigeria sends wrong signals to these Islamists in Kano and other places because Nigeria has not taken any concrete steps to mitigate egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief.
“Instead, the situation of religious freedom continues to worsen. Humanists in the country, especially those in Sharia implementing states live in constant fear of their lives. They are constantly harassed and threatened online and offline by Muslim fanatics for expressing their views and opinions,” the statement read.
The group recalled that in 2020, Nigeria was listed as a country of particular concern “for engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom”.
It said the listing of Nigeria was a welcome development because acts of religious violence were running rampant.
The humanist association said the State Department had noted that Nigeria had been unable to tackle religiously motivated abuses and persecutions and had failed to ensure that every Nigerian, at all times, had the right to live according to the dictates of conscience.
“Now, one year after, has anything changed? Not at all. So on what grounds were Nigeria removed from the list? Look, the President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, Mubarak Bala, remains in jail for allegedly making a Facebook post.
“The police took him for several months; they connived with the Kano state government and have kept him in custody without trial. The United Nations and foreign governments have urged Nigeria, especially the Ganduje-led government in Kano to charge or release Mubarak Bala. But all appeals have fallen on deaf ears. Kano state government has refused to formally arraign Bala,” the statement further read.
The association said the police had refused to release Bala despite a court order. It said by removing Nigeria from the list of violators, the US State Department is emboldening fanatics and encouraging their continued oppression and persecution of humanists and other minorities.
The association argued that instead of removing Nigeria from the religious freedom Blacklist, the US State Department should take further measures and compel Nigeria to uphold the right to freedom of religion of humanists and other persecuted minorities in the country.
A group of seven UN human rights experts had in April condemned Nigerian authorities for abusing Bala’s rights
Last year, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, had faulted Bala’s arrest and even written him a letter of encouragement.