A Nigerian atheist and outspoken religious critic was sentenced to 24 years in prison on Tuesday after pleading guilty to blasphemy charges in the predominantly Muslim northern state of Kano, in a ruling that highlights the country’s religious freedoms.
Mubarak Bala’s charges stem from comments he made on Facebook in April 2020 that were critical of Islam and were deemed blasphemous and an insult to the religion by Kano authorities, according to his lawyer.
When Kano High Court Judge Farouk Lawan asked if Bala was coerced into entering a guilty plea to the 18 charges, he said he did so of his own free will.
Bala’s lawyer, James Ibor, said the sentence handed down on Tuesday was “very outrageous” and could lead to his client’s death.
Bala is the president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria and activists have said his conviction illustrates the risks of being openly faithless in northern Nigeria, which is predominantly Muslim.
Prosecutors in northern Kano state accused Bala of making Facebook posts that insulted the Prophet Muhammad and the religion of Islam, and attempted to “cause a breach of the public peace”, according to court documents.
Mr Bala’s lawyer, James Ibor, had previously attempted to persuade his client to change his plea, but he insisted on his guilty plea.
The lawyer, on the other hand, cited frustration and fear as reasons for his client’s guilty plea, claiming that his client had been in prison for two years.
Mr Bala, on the other hand, raised his hand and informed the court that he was guilty as charged.
Mr Bala, in his leniency request, stated that the purpose of his social media posts was not to incite violence. As a result, he promised not to make blasphemous posts in the future.
The sentence is currently being handed down by the judge.