Global Rights has in two separate petitions called on the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, H.E Abubakar Malami (SAN) and the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, Mr. Ernest Ojukwu, for an urgent intervention in the blasphemy sentences against Mr. Yahaya Sharif-Aminu and 13-year-old, Master Umar Farouq. In a letter signed by the Executive Director, Ms. Abiodun Baiyewu, Global Rights reminded both parties that the sentences of death and imprisonment handed respectively were in direct contravention to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended and the International Human Rights tenets which Nigeria is ratified.
On August 10, 2020, both Mr. Sharif-Aminu and Master Farouq where sentenced to death and a 10-year jail sentence respectively by an Upper Shari’a Court sitting at Hausawa Filin Hockey in Kano State, Nigeria. Mr. Sharif-Aminu, a 22-year-old musician was arrested and convicted on the charges of blasphemy for circulating a song on social media (WhatsApp) which allegedly elevated a rival Islamic cleric to the Statue of the most revered Prophet Mohammed (SAW) and even above. Similarly, 13-year Master Farouq was arraigned for allegedly making derogatory statements against Allah” while in an argument with a friend. Interestingly, both persons were sentenced on the same day in a summary trial behind closed doors by the same judge sitting in Kano State.
In the petitions, Global Rights argues that:
- Master Umar Farouq is a minor and is entitled to protection from being tried as an adult as articulated under the African Charter of the Rights and Welfare of a Child and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
- The proceedings in both trials were closed to the public, which clearly violates their right to a fair, and public trial as guaranteed under Section 36(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
- Both Mr. Sharif-Aminu and Master Farouq are being denied access to their family and legal representatives.
- Sharif-Aminu does not profess to be a Muslim and therefore should not be tried under Sharia Penal Law.
- Both Mr. Sharif-Aminu and Master Farouq are being persecuted contrary to their constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom speech and conscience as enshrined in Section 39(1) of the Nigerian Constitution, which enshrines that “every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference”. Section 38(1) also provides that: “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. Hence, Nigeria has no state religion.
- The law under which both were convicted: Section 382 (b) of Kano penal code of 2000, is in conflict with the Nigerian constitution (1999) as amended; the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights respectively.
It is imperative to note that any attempt at upholding the sentences of both these young persons will a set precedent for the willful violation of the fundamental rights as enshrined in the constitution. With Civic Space in Nigeria seeing serious clamp downs in recent months, via attempt at systematically silencing critical voices and the media, upholding the convictions of both Mr. Sharif-Aminu and Master Farouq will have serious negative impacts in the fight to restore Civic space in Nigeria. It is based on the foregoing that Global Rights has called on both Mr. Malami (SAN) and Mr. Ojukwu, to use the power of their offices as both the Attorney General of the Federation and the Executive Secretary of the apex custodian of human rights in Nigeria to:
- Immediately intervene in the cases of both citizens.
- Issue advisories to the Chief Judge of all states, the states’ Commissioner of Justice, and the Executive Governor of the state on penal cases that contravene rights protected by the constitution.
- Enter a nolle prosequi
- Issue a public statement on the human rights violations inherent in both cases.
- Request to submit amicus curiae briefs on each of these matters for which appeals have recently been filed.
It is pertinent that both Mr. Sharif-Aminu and Master Farouq feel the full support of their government and know that they have not been abandoned by their country.