Tuesday, April 20, 2021

A year in jail for Nigeria's 'atheist with a cause'

Amina Ahmed is tired. Day and night, she waits by her phone for news of her husband, languishing behind bars in northern Nigeria for close to a year.


Eight months after she married Mubarak Bala, a self-proclaimed atheist she met online, in an intimate ceremony, he was detained by police on April 28, 2020, and taken to an unknown destination.

Since that day, Bala has been held without charges.

Advocates for his release say he is accused of writing a Facebook post criticising the prophet of Islam, an act of blasphemy that can carry a death sentence in Nigeria's conservative Muslim north where sharia law is enforced alongside common law.

Bala is an engineer who worked for a power company in Kaduna. He is also president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, an organisation that describes itself as "the voice of humanism in Nigeria."

The 36-year-old grew up in a traditional Muslim family, with a father who had three wives and a mother who had nine children. But as a young adult, he became irreligious.

Bala started advocating for freedom of religion and against Islamic extremists, in particular in the northeast where armed groups have waged an insurgency for over a decade in an attempt to establish a caliphate.

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