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Yahaya Sharif-Aminu’s death penalty blasphemy case highlighted at European Parliament

  • Testimony from international human rights lawyer highlights blasphemy laws as severe violation of international law with deadly consequences in Nigeria, following the adoption of the European Parliament’s urgency resolution earlier this year.

  • ADF International is providing legal support for the case of Sufi Muslim Yahaya Sharif-Aminu at the Nigerian Supreme Court, which could bring much-needed religious freedom improvements to the country’s 220 million inhabitants.

Brussels (12 October 2023) – Every day, on average, 14 Christians are violently killed in Nigeria. Persecution of religious minorities in the country is severe. The case of Sufi Muslim Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, pending before the Supreme Court of Nigeria, challenges the blasphemy law of Kano state, Nigeria, under which he was sentenced to death by a Sharia court for peaceful expression on WhatsApp. ADF International is supporting his legal defence.  

“Nobody should be punished because of their faith, let alone be executed for it. It is imperative that we support Yahaya, advocating not only for his release, but also to end the persecution of religious minorities. Blasphemy laws are in violation of international law and should be abolished, in Nigeria and elsewhere,” said MEP Miriam Lexmann from the European People’s Party (EPP) parliamentary group, who co-hosted the event in the European Parliament.  

International human rights lawyer Kola Alapinni, representing Sharif-Aminu at the Supreme Court with the support of ADF International, spoke about his work in defence of religious freedom in Nigeria: “I recently visited Yahaya again. He is a musician—an artist—who peacefully expressed himself through his lyrics. Now I see him in prison, because of a life-threatening Sharia law. As long as religious minorities are imprisoned for mere peaceful expression, there’s no religious freedom in Nigeria. I thank everyone involved in the resolution on Yahaya that the European Parliament adopted earlier this year. Please keep up the pressure. Let us not forget the fate of Yahaya and countless others who suffer because of blasphemy laws.” In April, the European Parliament called for Sharif-Aminu’s release in a near unanimous urgency resolution. 

“The European Union and its Member States should promote and protect the international human right to freedom of religion by urging Nigerian authorities to repeal blasphemy laws and call for an end to religious persecution in Nigeria. Every day, on average, 14 Nigerian Christians are violently killed for their faith. Nigeria is an influential country throughout Africa and the Muslim world. Yahaya’s case shows the need to lead the way towards abolishing blasphemy laws in this country and the wider region,” commented event co-host and MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen from the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) parliamentary group.   

Death sentence for “blasphemy”  

More information about Yahaya Sharif-Aminu’s case is available here, including video footage of his story and family’s testimony.

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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 towards the prophet Mohammed. While Sharif-Aminu’s initial conviction was overturned, he has been ordered to a retrial where he would once again face the same death penalty blasphemy law. 

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. He remains in prison awaiting the Supreme Court appeal. His case is far from an isolated incident. The persecution of minority religion adherents, including Christians and minority Muslims, in Nigeria is especially severe. In 2022, approximately 90% of all Christians worldwide who were killed for their faith were in Nigeria. 

“The importance of Yahaya Sharif-Aminu’s case cannot be overestimated. ADF International is committed to supporting this important case and bringing about justice for Yahaya. Our prayers are with him, and all who suffer from religious persecution in Nigeria. The Supreme Court’s decision could end blasphemy laws not only in his home state, but also lead the way towards further abolishing these laws, which significantly exacerbate societal tensions against religious minority groups,” stated Jean-Paul Van De Walle, Legal counsel for ADF International in Brussels. 

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