- Cross-party MPs join call for the urgent release of Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, the Nigerian musician facing the death penalty under blasphemy law
- Sharif-Aminu’s appeal, supported by ADF International, is currently before the Nigerian Supreme Court
London (25 May 2023) MPs from across the political spectrum have united in urging Nigeria’s outgoing President, Muhammadu Buhari, to urgently pardon Yahaya Sharif-Aminu and others who are facing the death penalty for “alleged blasphemous expressions”.
Sharif-Aminu was sentenced to death by hanging in 2020 on charges of blasphemy for voice messages he sent on WhatsApp under the law in Kano state, northern Nigeria. He remains in prison awaiting his appeal at Nigeria’s Supreme Court.
An Early Day Motion submitted this week by Jim Shannon MP (DUP), and signed by Rachael Maskell MP (Labour), Carla Lockhart MP (DUP), Martyn Day MP (SNP), Fiona Bruce MP (Conservative), Chris Stephens MP (SNP) and Marie Rimmer MP (Labour), calls for “President Buhari to pardon those facing the death penalty for alleged blasphemous expressions before he leaves office, including Yahaya Sharif-Aminu”.
The Motion also calls attention to Nigeria’s egregious blasphemy laws, stating “this House condemns the blasphemy laws in Nigeria that have caused individuals with minority beliefs to receive long prison sentences or extreme mob violence”. The full text of the motion can be found here.
“We are thankful to the Members of the U.K. Parliament who are speaking out on Yahaya’s behalf,” said Lizzie Francis, Legal Counsel on Global Religious Freedom for ADF International. “A society is not free until all have the freedom to speak and express themselves without fear of persecution. The international community must continue to speak out on behalf of Yahaya and others who are being denied their basic rights”.
In addition to supporting this week’s Motion, several MPs have been outspoken in support of Yahaya, condemning blasphemy laws and calling for his release. Fiona Bruce, who serves as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, has spoken out on Yahaya’s behalf numerous times in the House of Commons, stating: “I am urging all who can to join our international alliance, . . . for the international human rights community to speak out on behalf of Sharif-Aminu,” and for the government of Nigeria to “exercise clemency by granting a pardon to the young Sufi singer, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu”.
Ahead of the close of Muhammadu Buhari’s second term as Nigeria’s President on Monday, May 29th, international pressure has been mounting to free Yahaya. Recently, in a letter to President Buhari, 209 Nigerian and international human rights and religious freedom experts and organisations, including 13 members of the U.K. Parliament, joined together to call for Yahaya’s immediate release. Last month, in a near-unanimous decision, the European Parliament called for Yahaya’s release and condemned Nigeria’s blasphemy laws.
“No one should be punished, much less sentenced to death, for simply sharing their beliefs,” said Sean Nelson, Legal Counsel on Global Religious Freedom for ADF International. “We welcome others to join us in calling for Nigeria to immediately release Yahaya Sharif-Aminu.”
In 2020, Sufi Muslim Yahaya Sharif-Aminu was sentenced to death by hanging for alleged blasphemy under the law in Kano state, northern Nigeria. His alleged crime involved sending song lyrics on WhatsApp that were deemed blasphemous toward the prophet Muhammad.
With support from the human rights legal advocacy group ADF International, Sharif-Aminu has appealed his case to the Supreme Court of Nigeria and is challenging the constitutionality of Sharia-based blasphemy laws. He remains in prison awaiting the Supreme Court appeal. His case is far from an isolated incident. Together with minority Muslims, the persecution of Christians in Nigeria is especially severe. In 2022, approximately 90% of all Christians worldwide that were killed for their faith were in Nigeria.
A newly released video from ADF International features testimonies from Yahaya’s mother, father, and uncle, who recount the traumatic experiences endured by Yahaya and their family. Also featured in the video is international human rights attorney, Kola Alapinni, who represents Yahaya Sharif-Aminu and has partnered with ADF International to secure Sharif-Aminu’s freedom.
Sharif-Aminu’s potentially landmark Supreme Court appeal could end blasphemy laws in his home state of Kano and across northern Nigeria. A positive decision could lead the way toward abolishing blasphemy laws around the world.