WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08) wrote to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari urging him to pardon prisoner of conscience Mubarak Bala. President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria and a self-identified atheist, Bala 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.
Rep. Raskin and the 11 signers of the letter urge President Buhari to pardon Bala before his term ends on May 29, 2023. The letter is also supported by international human rights organizations including Ex-Muslims of North America, Freedom House, Freedom Now, Humanists International, Jubilee Campaign and the Lantos Foundation.
The lawmakers wrote, “We know that your tenure as president is coming to an end soon and we hope that you will choose to exercise your powers of clemency and pardon to free Mubarak, who is a husband and a father of a three-year-old son, who he has been away from since the boy was a mere eight weeks old. As a father yourself who spent three years in detention, you know far better than we the profound impact this prolonged absence can have on a child’s life.”
The lawmakers continued: “For now, it remains within your power to secure Mubarak’s release, thereby sending a profound message of support for human rights and the rule of law that will be heard all over the world.”
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, freedom of conscience and the separation of church 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 deemed blasphemy, which is a thought crime.
Rep. Raskin sponsors Mubarak Bala through the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s (Lantos Commission) Defending Freedoms Project and leads efforts in the U.S. Congress to free Bala and other prisoners of conscience globally.
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 the non-profit 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.