from EMEKA OKONKWO in Abuja, Nigeria
ABUJA – HUMAN rights groups are demanding the whereabouts of a Nigeria critic arrested in April on allegations of insulting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.
Mubarak Bala, president of the Nigerian Humanist Association, was arrested in his home in the northern Kaduna State and was transferred to the neighbouring Kano State.
Police have since declined to provide details of his whereabouts and denied access to his family and lawyers.
It is alleged Bala, on his Facebook page, compared Prophet Muhammad to a Nigerian Evangelical preacher, who he suggested was better than the Prophet because he was not a terrorist.
Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch, said regardless of the offense or the sensitivity of the case, the authorities must not withhold information on Bala’s whereabouts.
“The authorities are required to ensure that he has regular and adequate access to his legal counsel, and Bala’s family should be able to speak to him,” Ewang said.
Bala’s whereabouts remain unknown despite the Magistrate Court in Kano granting an order mandating the police to allow Bala’s lawyers access to him after a formal application was made.
The order has still not been processed by the chief magistrate and so cannot be enforced.
Critics believe the delay is an effort to further impede access.
“Immediate steps should be taken to charge him with an offense that does not violate his human rights, or release him unconditionally,” Ewang said.
Nigerian law criminalizes insult to religion but its constitution protects freedom of thought, conscience, religion and guarantees freedom of expression.
Islamic Sharia laws applicable in the country’s 12 northern states including Kano, criminalise blasphemy.
People have been sentenced to death for blasphemy.
– CAJ News