Thursday, April 20, 2023
In a joint resolution adopted today, members of the European Parliament expressed their concern and disapproval towards the Nigerian government and authorities failing to secure freedom of religion and belief in the country. This was triggered by the case of Yahaya Sharif-Aminu- a Sufi Muslim singer accused of insulting prophet Mohammed in one of his songs shared on WhatsApp. He has been convicted in 2020 by a Sharia court for blasphemy and sentenced to death by hanging. His case is appealed at the Nigeria’s Supreme Court and European legislators fear there is a risk for the initial conviction to be upheld and the young singer to be executed.
Nigeria is a country in West Africa with more than 200 million citizens, who are almost evenly split between Muslim and Christian religions. The northern part of the country is mostly Muslim, with 12 of the northern states practicing Sharia law. The southern part of the country is mostly Christian (70%). The minority Christians in northern states have been systematically persecuted, beaten, kidnapped, discriminated, tortured and killed. Terrorist groups like Boko Haram and others are specifically targeting Christians; they kill men and boys and kidnap, rape or enslave the women. The government has been appointing Muslims for key positions, at federal as well as at state level, which makes it very intimidating for Christians, atheists or members of other religions to file complaints or be treated justly.
Most human rights organizations, the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom as well as now European leaders have come out strongly condemning the existence and enforcement of blasphemy laws, as they violate the Nigerian Constitution which is very clear that Nigeria is a secular country and there shall be no state religion at federal or state level. “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.” (Article 10) reinforced by Article 38 which states: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” The leaders in the northern states insist these laws are meant to keep the peace in a highly religious country with a plurality of faiths but recent cases have shown the opposite is true. Many times, when a person is perceived to have offended Islam or its prophet, an angry mob gathers and violence occurs: beatings, burnings, vandalism etc. The brutal killing and burning of Deborah Samuel by a mob of students as well as other incidents confirm that blasphemy laws are dangerous.
ECPM MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen addressed this case in his statement on the plenary floor: “I sincerely hope the Nigerian Supreme Court will declare the blasphemy laws unconstitutional and incompatible with the international treaties Nigeria is part of. The decision can have far-reaching consequences, especially for the many Christians who are threatened by Sharia law in Nigeria. I call on the European Commission to send over our concerns over the blasphemy laws in Nigeria to the Nigerian authorities.”
We fully agree and support Mr. Ruissen’s statement and indeed, encourage the Commission’s Special Envoy for Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief Frans van Daele to intervene urgently in this matter and impress on the Nigerian government that blasphemy laws are incompatible with international law and illegal according to the Nigerian Constitution. Blasphemy laws must be repealed as they severely violate the Nigerian citizens’ freedom of thought, worship and belief.