Reprinted with permission from Jubileecampaign.org
The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, joined by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues publish their allegation letter to the government of Nigeria raising the cases of two women the government of Nigeria failed to protect.
While the letter is dated August 2023, the UN special procedures keep their communications embargoed for 60 days in the hopes that the State addressed will respond to the allegations before publicising it. The government of Nigeria has however, not responded to the letter. The Special Procedures’ lament the pattern of unresponsiveness by the government of Nigeria to their previous communications on concerns about the “continued existence and frequent use of blasphemy laws in Nigeria.” They specifically cite the allegation letters on the arbitrary detentions of Sufi singer Yahaya Sharif Aminu and ExMuslim Humanist Mubarak Bala [NGA 4/2020 and NGA 2/2021, 3/2020 respectively] for exercising their freedom of expression, thought, religion and belief.
The letter expresses the special procedures “utter concern” at the lynching of Deborah Emmanuel and the negligence of the police authorities and the lack of accountability. They also raise “concern” at the arrest and detention of the mother of five, Rhoda Jatau, who authorities have detained for over a year for, “what appears to be mere peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief.” The Special Rapporteurs also note reports of several violations by authorities of the right to fair trial in the case of Rhoda Jatau, including the “only […] intermittent access to legal counsel and family members” and the “repeated denials of bail citing the risk of public disturbances.”
In addition, the letter expresses broad concern regarding the criminalisation of blasphemy in Nigeria. Noting the episodes of violence relating to accusations of blasphemy, and how these laws “violate freedom of religion and belief as well as have a stifling effect on open dialogue and public discourse (A/HRC/25/58).” They also call on the government of Nigeria to heed appeals on the government to cease the criminalisation of blasphemy: “We would like to remind your Excellency’s Government that the repeal of [anti-] blasphemy laws has been continuously called for by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and is a recommendation of the Rabat Plan of Action (A/HRC/22/17/Add.4) and Human Rights Committee General Comment No. 34.”
The allegation letter concludes by providing nine requests for response including comment on the lack of accountability in the lynching of Deborah Emmanuel (2-3) and regarding what legal grounds authorities are pursuing charges against Rhoda Jatau (4-7). The final points call on the government of Nigeria to provide information on all the individuals, if any, who the authorities have prosecuted and convicted for “using violence in the name of religion and in response to allegations of blasphemy,” and also to provide specific information regarding measures taken by authorities to, “ensure the protection and realization of the rights of members of religious minorities to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as the right to freedom of expression.”
Jubilee Campaign warmly welcomes this letter by the UN Special Procedures and hope that it will add urgency to the Government of Nigeria’s responsibility to address the concerns with its anti-blasphemy laws, including the immediate release of Rhoda Jatau and to initiate a thorough investigation into the murder of Deborah Emmanuel, requesting foreign assistance to collaborate in the investigations. We also echo the call by the Special Procedures for the Government of Nigeria to repeal its anti-blasphemy laws and release all individuals held arbitrarily for exercising their freedoms of thought, conscience, religion and belief.
Jubilee Campaign together with ECLJ sponsored a UN Human Rights Council side-event raising the above concerns related to Nigeria’s anti-blasphemy laws. The event included keynote remarks made by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. Two Nigerian human rights lawyers, including Kola Alapinni the lawyer of Sufi singer Yahaya Sharif Aminu, shared with concern the lack of accountability surrounding the lynching of Deborah Emmanuel and the arbitrary detention of Rhoda Jatau.
[As of writing the government of Nigeria has still not responded to the communication]