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Converts face Sharia court trials for Christian faith in Nigeria  

#EndPersecutionNow

Topic | Persecution, Freedom of Religion

Hannah, Faith, Elijah and Barbara* don’t know each other, but their life stories have one beautiful and one heartbreaking thing in common – the hope found in their Christian faith and their subsequent persecution.  

Despite having faced different hardships in Nigeria, they each found hope in their faith when they converted to Christianity. It gave Hannah strength to care for her two siblings after they lost their parents during Boko Haram attacks in Northeast Nigeria. It carried Faith through her grief after being widowed at a young age when Boko Haram killed her husband and children. It allowed Elijah to survive attempts on his life by his own community when they rejected him for his newfound faith. And Barbara found Christianity after her Muslim husband divorced her and she was displaced to Cameroon when Boko Haram swept through her village.  

The heartbreak came when, because of their Christian faith, they were all dragged before Sharia courts and charged with apostasy, the punishment for which includes the death penalty. Thankfully, their cases were all dismissed within the past six months after ADF International allied lawyers were able to provide counsel in their defense. These four converts escaped the Sharia Court system and its grave punishments.  Yet, many others like them still face uncertain fates.  

Who:
Hannah, Faith, Elijah, Barbara & others like them* 

Where:
Sharia courts, Nigeria 

Advocacy Team:
Sean Nelson, Kelsey Zorzi

"No one should live in fear of being harassed, attacked, or killed because of their religious beliefs. Christians should not be tried by Sharia courts. We urge the Nigerian government to protect converts of all faiths."

- Kelsey Zorzi, Director of Advocacy for Global Religious Freedom Tweet quote

Case Summary

Hannah 

As a young Christian girl, Hannah and her two siblings survived Boko Haram attacks in Northeast Nigeria but lost both of their parents. A local Muslim cleric found them and assisted them with food and money. When Hannah turned 18 years old in November 2020, the cleric tried to persuade Hannah to convert to Islam and marry him. When she refused, he threatened her life. The cleric then sued Hannah before a Shariah court, saying that she had fraudulently cheated him and denounced Islam. He requested that the court sentence Hannah to death for renouncing Islam, as per Shariah law. The Shariah court judge ordered her remanded in prison pending the hearing of her case.  

When an ADF International allied lawyer was able to take her case, he filed for a bail application in February 2021, which was granted.  

“In Nigeria, we do not execute people because of apostasy, anymore,” explained Hannah’s lawyer. Instead, people remain in prison for life. The situation in jail is so miserable that it considerably shortens life expectancy. “Nobody would want to spend even a day in such a pitiful hole,” the lawyer said. 

When the trial commenced in April 2021, the cleric repeatedly failed to appear at court after finding that Hannah had representation. This resulted in the Shariah court eventually dismissing the matter.  

Faith  

Faith is a young widow who lost her husband and two children during a Boko Haram attack in their community in Northeast Nigeria in 2018. Her husband’s property was confiscated by his family after her death. Two years later, she converted to Christianity. Her late husband’s family then forcefully evicted her from her home, asserting that a non-Muslim could not inherit from a Muslim. The family also accused Faith of apostasy before a Shariah court. When they brought the lawsuit before the Shariah court in July 2021, the Shariah judge ordered her remanded in prison custody pending the hearing of her case.  

After an ADF International allied lawyer was able to take her case, the family members repeatedly failed to appear at court. Faith’s lawyer moved for dismissal of the case in December 2021, which was granted.  

Elijah 

Elijah is a 19-year-old man who converted to Christianity, having come from a Muslim family in Northern Nigeria. After his conversion, members of his community and family threatened to kill him. When the attempts on his life failed, his family brought a lawsuit against him instead.  At the Shariah court, they sought the death penalty for apostasy. Pending a hearing in his case, the court sent him to be held in prison in July 2021.  

After an ADF International allied lawyer was able to take Elijah’s case, the family members repeatedly failed to appear at court. In January 2022, Elijah’s lawyer moved for the case to be dismissed. His request was granted.  

Barbara  

Barbara was born a Muslim in Northeast Nigeria. She married her husband Gafar according to Islamic law, but he later divorced her in writing. Because of the Boko Haram insurgency, she was then displaced into neighboring Cameroon. There, she converted to Christianity and married Leo. When they both returned to Nigeria in 2019, Gafar sued Barbara and Leo on grounds of adultery. Upon appearing in court, the judge ordered they be sent to prison pending their hearings.  

After an ADF International allied lawyer was able to take their case in 2020, the lawyer was able to get the Shariah court to strike Leo from the case, but the court would not dismiss the case against Barbara. The lawyer then appealed to a higher state court. In December 2021, Gafar passed away, and the lawsuit was automatically dismissed. 

 

* names withheld for security reasons  

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