Eddie Marsan leads calls to Free Nigerian humanist at High Commission

Today, protesters gathered together outside the Nigerian High Commission, sparked by the recent sentencing of the President of the Nigerian Humanist Association Mubarak Bala to 24 years in prison. Eddie Marsan read out devastating testimony from Mubarak about his treatment by authorities even prior to his arrest. The protest, organised by Humanists UK, also coincided with the two year anniversary of Bala’s arrest. The demands on Nigerian authorities were two-fold: overturn Bala’s sentence and repeal all blasphemy laws in Nigeria.

Following the protest, Humanists UK is asking its members, supporters, and the general public to write to their MP to raise awareness of his case and to urge the UK Government to act.

Bala was sentenced to 24 years’ imprisonment for posting ‘blasphemous’ content on Facebook after an unfair trial: it was repeatedly delayed and the charges against him were duplicated. Procedural irregularities have been rife since his arrest two years ago. Bala remained incarcerated without charge for well over a year. He was denied access to his lawyers and family for an extended period. He was denied medical attention. And the Abuja High Court’s ruling that he be released on bail was ignored by Kano State authorities. Not only that, but his case exemplifies the need to abolish blasphemy laws, which intrinsically contravene the right to freedom of religion or belief.

Eddie Marsan, actor and Patron of Humanists UK, presented the heartbreaking and powerful testimony that Bala submitted to the UK Foreign Affairs Committee’s inquiry into Freedom of Religion or Belief in 2019. The testimony describes how Bala came to realise that he is a humanist, and how he was ostracised by his family and friends because of it. He describes how he was threatened by Boko Haram but had no protection from the Nigerian Government, and how his application for a UK visa was rejected. His testimony goes on to describe how he and others formed a Nigerian humanist community that supported each other and led others in Africa to organise and develop a stronger voice demanding  human rights for all. That, of course, all took a devastating turn when Mubarak was arrested months later.

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of Humanists UK, also addressed the crowd. He said:

‘Mubarak’s sentence is a devastating blow to the whole Nigerian humanist community. No-one should be imprisoned simply for expressing humanist beliefs, much less be sentenced to 24 years. We urge the Nigerian authorities to free Mubarak Bala without delay.’

The speeches closed with a comment from Clive Aruede of the Association of Black Humanists, who is from Nigeria. He questioned how such a cosmopolitan country could behave in such an uncivilised way. He called on Nigeria to uphold freedom of belief, thought, and expression.