WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08) today announced his sponsorship of Nigerian political prisoner Mubarak Bala through the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s (Lantos Commission) Defending Freedoms Project. Bala, President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria and a self-identified atheist, has been imprisoned in Nigeria since April 28, 2020, when he was arrested over a Facebook post stating that he did not believe in an afterlife.

“Authoritarian regimes use blasphemy laws to imprison and torture people who dare to engage in critical thinking and honestly express their beliefs,” Rep. Raskin said. “Bala’s case highlights the urgent need to defend freedom of expression, freedom of thought and human rights around the world.”

Rep. Raskin addressed the President of Nigeria directly, saying, “Nigeria, it is time to end the theocratic persecution of Mubarak Bala. President Buhari, I urge you to immediately issue a pardon for Mr. Bala before your term ends this May.”

Bala gained attention in 2014 when he was forcibly drugged and committed to a psychiatric unit by his family members for declaring himself an atheist. He has since been a vocal proponent of the right to freedom of expression and the separation of religion and state in Nigeria. After his arrest in April 2020, Bala was held for more than a year without charge and denied access to medical care and his legal team. Nigeria’s Federal High Court ruled Bala’s arrest unconstitutional in December 2020 and ordered him released, but the order was ignored. In April 2022, Bala was sentenced to 24 years in prison by the Kano State High Court on charges of causing a public disturbance by posting social media messages critical of Islam.

The Lantos Commission’s Defending Freedoms Project allows members of Congress to shine a light on prisoners of conscience across the globe and encourage accountability for unjust treatment and operates in conjunction with organizations like Freedom House. Freedom House, joined by Freedom Now and Humanists International, recently filed a petition to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention urging for Bala’s release.

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission was established in honor of the late Congressman Tom Lantos, who was a leading advocate for human rights during his tenure in Congress.