European Parliament Condemns Blasphemy Prosecution Against Nigerian Sufi Musician

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Last week, the European Parliament nearly unanimously passed a resolution condemning the prosecution of a Nigerian Sufi Muslim musician, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, for allegations of blasphemy and calling for his immediate release. The resolution is the strongest statement yet from an international body against Nigeria’s blasphemy laws and could lead to Sharif-Aminu’s release.

Sharif-Aminu has been imprisoned for more than three years. He was accused of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad when he shared a handful of lyrics peacefully describing the beliefs of his particular sect of Sufism on WhatsApp in February 2020. A mob set his home in Kano State in Northern Nigeria on fire, and he was sentenced to death by hanging only a few months later, even though he was not afforded a lawyer at his trial. While his conviction was eventually overturned, Sharif-Aminu was ordered to a retrial where he would face the death penalty once again.

He has appealed his case now to the Nigerian Supreme Court, challenging for the first time the constitutionality of the death penalty blasphemy laws that exist in Nigeria’s 12 northern states.

The European Parliament’s resolution pulls no punches. It calls for Sharif-Aminu’s immediate and unconditional release and declares that Nigeria’s blasphemy laws “are in violation of its international human rights commitments, the African Charter and the Nigerian Constitution.” It stresses that Sharif-Aminu’s case is “an unprecedented opportunity to lead the way towards abolishing blasphemy laws.” And it calls on Nigeria to repeal its blasphemy laws at both the federal and state levels.

The European left, right, and center came together during the vote to express an extraordinary degree of unity. MEP Lukas Mandl of the center-right European People's Party, which is the largest party in the European Parliament, said, “Those in Nigeria ... should know that the European Union in the future won’t shrug its shoulder at circumstances like this.” Mandl defended the core right at the heart of Sharif-Aminu’s case: “It is not a crime to have a religious conviction and to express that. That is part of freedom of religion.”

The resolution also points to the broader harmful effects Nigeria’s blasphemy laws have wrought. It raises the case of Deborah Yakubu, the Christian student beaten, stoned to death, and burnt by her classmates after they formed a mob against her for alleged blasphemy in May 2022 in Sokoto State. The resolution also calls for the release of Rhoda Jatau, a Christian woman who has been held incommunicado for nearly a year now over blasphemy allegations because she shared a video on social media condemning the lynching of Yakubu, as well as the release of Mubarak Bala, a leading Nigerian humanist now serving 24 years in prison over allegations of blasphemy.

The starkness of Sharif-Aminu’s case seems to have brought clarity to the grave violations of religious freedom occurring in Nigeria and the injustice of the country’s blasphemy laws. Only last year, the European Parliament rejected a motion to debate the case of Deborah Yakubu. But now, the spate of blasphemy prosecutions and mob violence that has occurred recently in Nigeria has made it undeniable that these laws and the government’s impunity against violence and mobs are affecting huge swaths of the country.

After the resolution passed, Sharif-Aminu’s lawyer, Kola Alapinni, said, “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.”

European Parliament resolutions have helped free others accused of blasphemy. This resolution should encourage other governments and officials to speak out strongly in favor of Sharif-Aminu and against Nigeria’s blasphemy laws. Nigeria’s Supreme Court should take this opportunity to lead the way in abolishing them. Additionally, the Nigerian president has the power to immediately pardon Sharif-Aminu, and he should.

The distress of the prosecution has caused intense pain to Sharif-Aminu’s family. His mother recently shared that she and her family “have no peace. We can’t sleep. If you have children, you should understand. A child is everyone’s child. Help us.”

Her appeal is heartbreaking. It is good to see the European Parliament standing up forcefully now for Yahaya Sharif-Aminu and all those who are suffering from Nigeria’s blasphemy laws. We need all lovers of freedom around the world to do the same.

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