Murbarak Bala is a chemical engineer and the President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, an organization advocating for secularism in Nigeria. He is also an atheist, and his publicly-stated beliefs have caused him to face harassment from his community in the past, including being involuntarily held in a psychiatric ward in for eighteen days in 2014.
On April 28, 2020, Bala was arrested by the Kano State Police. He was not informed of the grounds for his arrest and was held incommunicado, without access to a lawyer, for several months.
Following repeated petitions, on June 24, 2020 a magistrate granted Bala’s attorneys’ motion to meet with him in prison. However, the police commissioner refused to grant them access to Bala. While held incommunicado, Bala was charged with creating a public disturbance in connection to Facebook posts that he made. It was not until October 2, 2020 that one member of his legal team was first able to meet with him.
On December 21, 2020, the Federal High Court in the capital, Abuja, ruled that the detention was unconstitutional and ordered that Bala should be immediately released. The order was ignored by the Kano State Police.
On August 3, 2021, the Kano State High Court charged Bala with ten counts of causing a public disturbance based on five “blasphemous” Facebook posts from April 2020. Blasphemy is illegal in Kano and other northern states that follow Sharia law, though not nationally throughout Nigeria. The police also alleged that the posts violated Nigeria’s national law against insult of people based on religion.
On February 1, 2022, at his arraignment, he appeared in court and denied all charges. On April 4, 2022, he was denied bail, and the next day, the Kano State High Court convicted him of 18 counts of causing a public disturbance and sentenced him to 24 years in prison.
In April 2023, Freedom Now, Humanists International, Freedom House, and Dechert LLP filed a petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on Bala’s behalf.
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Can you imagine a doctor being imprisoned just for treating a patient, or a journalist detained simply for publishing an article critical of his government?