What if you got the death penalty for sharing WhatsApp audio messages?
This is the reality for Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, a Nigerian musician. But his case is now before the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
Will you help us release him and end blasphemy laws?
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Everything began with audio messages that a young Nigerian man, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, shared on WhatsApp. They contained self-composed lyrics in which Yahaya spoke about a nineteenth-century Imam revered in his particular tradition of Sufi Islam. Yahaya was then accused by others on the WhatsApp chat of blasphemy for allegedly placing the Imam above the prophet Muhammad.
A dangerous mob burned down his house and the Hisbah religious police, an official authority in charge of enforcing Sharia law, arrested Yahaya. Shortly after, the young man was convicted in a Sharia court for his alleged “blasphemy” and sentenced to death by hanging. In the trial, he didn’t even have legal counsel.
Yahaya had only one chance to save his life: to appeal the death sentence. Now his case will be decided at the Supreme Court of Nigeria with ADF International’s support. And yet, he has been languishing in prison for almost three years without bail.
”Yahaya is an artist and musician, who, for freely expressing himself, could now lose his life under the death penalty. He is committed to correcting the grave injustice he has endured, not only for himself, but for all who suffer under blasphemy laws. Our appeal to the Supreme Court is this: overturn these dangerous laws and bring us one step closer to a peaceful Nigeria.Kola AlapinniYahaya’s lawyer
Blasphemy laws are laws that punish individuals for speech that others find offensive towards their own beliefs or sacred symbols. They are found in many countries that implement Islamic Sharia law. They are used to punish and persecute religious minorities, including some minority Muslims like Yahaya. Everyone has the right to freely exercise their religion. But blasphemy laws violate religious freedom, persecute individuals for peacefully expressing their beliefs and punish people of faith for sharing their convictions.
These laws are a significant driver of social tensions and can lead to brutal mob violence. This has life-threatening consequences. Thirteen (13) Christians are being killed every day in Nigeria because of their faith. One of them, the Christian student Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu, was stoned, beaten to death, and burned after blasphemy accusations.
She became globally known as a victim of blasphemy accusations.
In part due to the official blasphemy laws in Nigeria, religious persecution is particularly severe in the West African country. In 2022, approximately 90% of the Christians that were killed for their faith worldwide were Nigerian.
With support from ADF International, Yahaya is now challenging the constitutionality of the Sharia blasphemy law at the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
Blasphemy laws are in clear breach of international human rights. Moreover, they are also in contradiction to the Nigerian constitution, which guarantees religious freedom. Yahaya’s Supreme Court appeal challenges the constitutionality of the draconic blasphemy law of the Kano State, his home. A victory has the potential to overturn Sharia-based blasphemy laws in Northern Nigeria.
Nigeria has immense influence throughout Africa and the Muslim world. The case is an unprecedented opportunity to lead the way towards abolishing blasphemy laws that plague religious minorities around the globe. The precedent-setting case, therefore, has the potential to improve the human rights situation for the 200 million citizens of Nigeria, but also many in other countries.
The court will also determine Yahaya’s future. In 2020 he was sentenced to death, and while his conviction was eventually overturned, he has been ordered to face a retrial under the same death penalty blasphemy law. His life is still in danger. The governor of Kano State already said at an earlier stage, “I will not waste time in signing the warrant for the execution of the man who blasphemed.”
We are working to save Yahaya’s life and to make sure fundamental rights are protected for him and all people in Nigeria.
”Yahaya’s case is incredibly important as it has the potential to overturn blasphemy laws that threaten the rights and lives of everyone in Nigeria, especially religious minorities in Northern Nigeria. We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will finally declare these blasphemy laws to be unconstitutional and in direct violation of international human rights law.Kelsey ZorziDirector of Advocacy for Global Religious Freedom for ADF International