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European Parliament condemns Nigerian speech laws which put “blasphemous” Whatsapp musician on death row

  • Near-unanimous resolution urges Nigeria to “repeal the blasphemy laws at federal and state level”  
  • Supreme Court of Nigeria to hear case of Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, sentenced to death for blasphemy on Whatsapp  

Brussels (20 April 2023) – In an urgency resolution the European Parliament has called for the release of Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, a young Nigerian musician sentenced to death under the blasphemy law of Kano state, northern Nigeria. The resolution “recalls that blasphemy laws are in clear breach of international human rights” and “contrary to the Nigerian Constitution which guarantees religious freedom and freedom of expression.” The resolution was adopted with a vote of 550 in favor and only seven votes against.  

Yahaya Sharif-Aminu’s case will be heard by the Supreme Court of Nigeria and has the potential to overturn the country’s draconian blasphemy law regime in the northern states. Blasphemy laws contribute to a culture of rampant fear and violence by targeting minority faith groups with criminal penalties, including in some parts, the death penalty, for religious expression perceived as offensive. 

“Nobody should be persecuted for their faith. Blasphemy laws are a grave violation not only of international law, but also of our Nigerian constitution. Together with ADF International, we are committed to defending Yahaya, and the human rights of all Nigerians. The international community must highlight the abuses of fundamental freedoms in Nigeria,” stated Kola Alapinni, the international human rights lawyer who is representing Yahaya at the Supreme Court of Nigeria in partnership with ADF International. 

Alapinni further added: “Nigerian citizens deserve the freedom to speak about their beliefs and to freely live out their faith. We applaud the efforts of the European Parliament to denounce what is happening under the blasphemy laws in Nigeria and support Yahaya”. 

The death sentence for alleged “blasphemy” 

In 2020, Sufi Muslim Yahaya Sharif-Aminu was sentenced to death by hanging for “blasphemy”. His alleged crime involved sending song lyrics on WhatsApp that were deemed blasphemous toward the prophet Mohammed.  

With support from 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. 

The parliamentarian resolution urges “the Nigerian authorities to repeal the blasphemy laws at federal and state level.” It also calls for the immediate unconditional release of individuals that “face blasphemy allegations.” 

Carlos Zorrinho, MEP (S&D) said during the debate: “In the name of dignity, justice and respect for the most basic human rights, I reiterate our call for the immediate release of the musician Yahaya Sharif-Aminu who is literally on death row right now.”  

Bert-Jan Ruissen, MEP (ECR) stated: “The mere existence of blasphemy laws stimulates grave violence against persons who are accused of blasphemy, very often even before police forces and justice systems can intervene.” 

“ADF International is working not only with the urgent goal of saving Yahaya’s life and securing his release, but also to put an end to blasphemy laws everywhere. Together with our Nigerian partners, we are committed to defend Yahaya and support his fight for freedom of expression and religious freedom at the Supreme Court of Nigeria,” stated Georgia du Plessis, Legal Officer at ADF International in Brussels. 

Du Plessis added: “Religious freedom and freedom of expression are fundamental human rights. Blasphemy laws punish people for peacefully voicing their beliefs and are inherently inconsistent with human rights. The European Parliament has taken a much-needed step to bring Yahaya’s case to public attention. We are hopeful that the resolution provides international momentum for a positive outcome.”  

“Case has unprecedented potential for religious freedom” 

A newly released video features Nigerian lawyer Kola Alapinni, who has partnered with ADF International to secure Yahaya Sharif-Aminu’s freedom. Also featured in the video, the mother of the so-called “blasphemous” musician recounts the trial and traumatic experiences her son has endured. 

Yahaya Sharif-Aminu remains in prison awaiting the Supreme Court to hear his appeal. Meanwhile, his case is far from an isolated incident. Together with minority Muslims, the persecution of Christians in Nigeria is especially severe. In 2021, 90% of all Christians worldwide that were killed for their faith were in Nigeria. 

“Religious freedom advocates have waited decades to overturn this blasphemy law. We can’t let this opportunity pass us by. The case has unprecedented potential for religious freedom and freedom of expression in Nigeria and could be the catalyst for the change we all are hoping for. Blasphemy laws are a catastrophe—they destabilize countries and provoke violence. As we are advocating for freedom of religion and speech around the world, we can clearly see that sentencing someone to death for their peaceful expression is the ultimate censorship,” said Kelsey Zorzi, Director of Global Religious Freedom for ADF International. 

Yahaya Sharif-Aminu’s Supreme Court appeal could end blasphemy laws in his home state of Kano and across northern Nigeria. A positive decision would lead the way towards abolishing blasphemy laws around the world.  

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