Published on 11 August 2020 in Blasphemy news

Nigerian singer sentenced to death for blasphemy

The Nigerian authorities should overturn the sentence of musician Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, who was sentenced to death by hanging by an upper Sharia court in the Hausawa Filin Hockey area of Kano State on 10 August, said the End Blasphemy Laws Coalition today. Sharif-Aminu’s sentence followed his conviction under Kano State’s ‘blasphemy’ law. 

Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, described by the BBC as a little-known islamic gospel musician prior to his arrest in March 2020, is alleged to have said that Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse, the Senegalese founder of the Islamic Tijjaniya sect, which has a large following across West Africa, “was bigger than Prophet Muhammad”. On 4 March, protestors reportedly burned down Sharif-Aminu’s home and demanded that the Islamic police, Hisbah, take action against him. Sharif-Aminu has been held in detention ever since. 

It is understood that Sharif-Aminu has the right to appeal his sentence.

Blasphemy is a criminal offence under Nigeria law. “Apostasy” and “blasphemy” are prohibited by law and punishable by death in the Sharia systems that operate in parallel with Customary systems in Northern states. The population of Kano State is predominantly Muslim, and Sharia courts operate alongside secular courts and are known to pass heavy sentences for perceived “blasphemy”. However, the use of the death penalty must be sanctioned by the state governor in each case. According to media reports, there has only been one execution since 1999. 

In addition to handing down executions, predominantly Muslim states have frequently seen riots, violence and murder after blasphemy accusations, sometimes against individual Muslims accused, but with potential for wider violence when the accused is Christian.

The conviction of Sharif-Aminu give rise to concerns for the fate of Mubarak Bala, another Nigerian man held in detention in Kano state following allegations of ‘blasphemy’. Bala, who was arrested on 28 April, has not been seen or heard from since. Prior to his arrest, he had received threatening messages, including death threats from a Kano State policeman.

The End Blasphemy Laws Coalition calls on the Nigerian authorities to repeal its blasphemy laws, which are a clear violation of Articles 6,7, 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Nigeria is a state party. The coalition also calls for the sentence of Sharif-Aminu to be overturned, and for Mubarak Bala to be released immediately and unconditionally.