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European Parliament condemns blasphemy laws ahead of potentially landmark free speech case in Nigeria

European Parliament condemns blasphemy laws ahead of potentially landmark free speech case in Nigeria

  • Human rights report denounces death penalty for blasphemy

  • In Nigeria, Sufi Muslim Yahaya Sharif-Aminu was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2020. He is currently challenging the constitutionality of the Sharia blasphemy law under which he was convicted for an allegedly blasphemous audio message

BRUSSELS (20 January 2023) – The European Parliament has condemned “in strong terms the enforcement of blasphemy laws” and stressed the importance of the “freedom to choose one’s religion”.

The 2022 Annual Report on human rights and democracy in the world and the European Union’s policy on the matter – adopted with a vote of 438 in support, 75 against – draws particular attention to the death penalty in alleged blasphemy cases. Religious freedom “remains a fundamental right that cannot be punished by death or any degrading treatment”. As of 2020, there are 84 countries across the world with criminal blasphemy laws.

“Nobody should be punished because of their faith – let alone be killed for it. This report comes at a critical time. Christians are the most persecuted faith group in the world – and 13 Christians are being killed every day in Nigeria simply because of what they believe. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right. Commitment from the European Parliament is a great step forward, but more needs to be done”, said Dr. Adina Portaru, Senior Counsel for ADF International in Brussels.

Sufi Muslim sentenced to death challenges blasphemy law in Nigeria

The adoption of the report comes ahead of a potential landmark case for religious freedom in Nigeria. In 2020 Sufi musician Yahaya Sharif-Aminu was sentenced to death for “blasphemy”. His alleged crime involved posting song lyrics to WhatsApp that were deemed blasphemous. With support from the human rights group ADF International, he has appealed to the Supreme Court of Nigeria and is challenging the constitutionality of the Sharia-based blasphemy laws.

Yahaya remains in prison awaiting the Supreme Court to hear his appeal. Meanwhile, his case is far from an isolated incident. In 2021, more than half of the Christians that were killed for their faith worldwide were Nigerians.

Only six months ago the European Parliament rejected a motion to debate Christian persecution after Nigerian student Deborah Samuel Yakubu had been brutally murdered due to blasphemy allegations. Human rights lawyers and MEPs were appalled after the rejection.

“The European Union should make religious freedom one of its top priorities. Yahaya needs all the support he can get. His case could be the catalyst for the change we all are hoping for. We are supporting Yahaya’s case because nobody should be persecuted for what they believe in, and as a result, we hope that blasphemy laws will be eradicated in Nigeria once and for all,” commented Georgia Du Plessis, Legal Officer for ADF International.

Newly appointed Special Envoy urgently needed

In December 2022, after the position was left vacant for almost three years, the European Commission appointed a new Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU. The adopted Report “emphasizes that the Special Envoy should also pay particular attention to forced conversion, [and the] misuse of blasphemy laws”.

“We welcome that the European Parliament identifies blasphemy laws as a threat to religious freedom and the wellbeing of every person. The EU must support brave individuals such as Yahaya Sharif-Aminu who risks losing his life for having exercised his religious freedom in Nigeria”, Du Plessis stated further.

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