WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08) and six of his colleagues wrote to Nigeria’s newly elected president, Bola Tinubu, urging him to pardon Mubarak Bala, a prisoner of conscience sentenced to 24 years in prison for posting messages on social media critical of Islam. Bala, the 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.
The lawmakers wrote: “We write now to bring to your attention the urgent problem of the continued detention of Mubarak Bala, a Nigerian citizen and humanist serving a 24-year prison sentence for peacefully exercising his fundamental rights to freedom of speech, religion and conscience.”
The lawmakers continued: “As Mubarak became one of the country’s most prominent critics of harmful religious practices, he began receiving death threats. In April 2020 he was arrested, held for more than a year without charge, and denied access to medical care and his legal team. Nigeria’s Federal High Court ruled Mubarak’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.”
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.
Rep. Raskin previously announced his sponsorship of Bala through the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s (Lantos Commission) Defending Freedoms Project. After announcing his sponsorship of Bala, Rep. Raskin sent a letter to former Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, urging a pardon for Bala. Buhari concluded his term in office on May 29, 2023 without issuing the pardon.
In April of this year, the non-profit human rights organization Freedom House, joined by Freedom Now and Humanists International, filed a petition to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention urging 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. The Lantos Commission’s Defending Freedoms Project allows members of Congress to shine a light on prisoners of conscience and encourage accountability for unjust treatment and operates in conjunction with human rights organizations around the world.
The six members of Congress who signed the letter are: Reps. Carson (IN-07), Doggett (TX-37), Huffman (CA-02), Johnson (GA-04), Lee (CA-12), and McGovern (MA-02).
The letter is endorsed by the following organizations: Ex-Muslims of North America, Freedom House, Freedom Now, International Committee on Nigeria, Jubilee Campaign, the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice and Humanists International.