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Challenging Blasphemy laws at the Supreme Court of Nigeria  


Topic | Persecution, Freedom of Religion

Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, a Nigerian Sufi musician, is bringing a challenge to the strict blasphemy law of Kano State, Northern Nigeria, under which he was previously sentenced to death, to the Supreme Court of Nigeria. He was convicted in 2020 despite not having legal representation, after sharing audio messages on social media deemed blasphemous towards the Prophet Mohammed.

Yahaya remains in jail without bail while awaiting the retrial, where he still faces a potential death penalty.

“Yahaya’s treatment violates both the Nigerian Constitution and international law. No one should be sentenced to death for freely expressing their religious views, and we are working to ensure that Yahaya is released and the blasphemy law ended. It cannot stand.” – Kola Alapinni, Yahaya’s lawyer

ADF International is supporting Yahaya’s Supreme Court appeal.

Yahaya Sharif-Aminu

Kano State, Northern Nigeria

Advocacy Team:
Sean Nelson, Kelsey Zorzi

Man sitting

"The justice system in Nigeria should be protecting people who express their faith peacefully, not punishing them with death. We pray that the Court rules that Yahaya has committed no crime and that the blasphemy laws that have targeted him and put so many others at risk will be overturned."

Case Summary

Yahaya initially was convicted and sentenced to death on 10 August 2020 by the Hausawa Filin Hockey upper-Sharia court. The conviction was overturned, and a new trial ordered in January 2021 based on procedural irregularities. Yahaya appealed the retrial order, arguing that the case should be dismissed entirely, and the blasphemy law be ruled unconstitutional. In August 2022, a Court of Appeal upheld the constitutionality of the blasphemy law and affirmed the retrial order.

Yahaya’s Supreme Court appeal has the potential to overturn Northern Nigeria’s draconian Sharia-based blasphemy laws, thus enabling Christian converts, minority Muslims, and others, to more freely speak about their faith and be protected from the often-life-threatening violence that accompanies a blasphemy accusation.

“Yahaya’s case is incredibly important as it has the potential to overturn blasphemy laws that threaten the rights of all religious minorities in 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. As a country with immense influence throughout Africa and the Muslim world, Nigeria has an unprecedented opportunity to lead the way toward abolishing draconian blasphemy laws that continue to plague minorities around the globe.” — Kelsey Zorzi, Director of Advocacy for Global Religious Freedom

“Blasphemy laws are incompatible with religious freedom and a significant contributor to violence and instability in the country.” – Sean Nelson, Legal Counsel, Global Religious Freedom

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Related News and Updates

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

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 calls of international human” and “contrary to the Nigerian Constitution which guarantees religious freedom and freedom of expression.

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Should religious freedom be protected in times of crisis?

“I support freedom of religious belief as a basic human right that deserves the highest level of protection.

I stand up against worship bans which are illiberal and non-democratic. Blanket bans on public worship are incompatible with the international human right to the communal exercise of religious freedom. Fundamental freedoms apply to all, and they must be protected rather than weakened in times of crisis.”