Published on 21 January 2021 in Blasphemy news

Appeals court orders retrial in case of Nigerian singer

The End Blasphemy Laws Coalition welcomes reports that the appeals division of the secular Kano State High Court has ordered a retrial in the case of Nigerian singer Yahaya Sharif-Aminu following fair trial concerns.

Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, described by the BBC as a little-known Islamic gospel musician prior to his arrest in March 2020, was sentenced to death by hanging by an upper Sharia court in the Hausawa Filin Hockey area of Kano State on 10 August 2020. 

His conviction followed allegations that he had 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 2020, 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. A hearing of his appeal was held in November 2020.

In a separate appeal, the court discharged Umar Farouq, a young man who, at 13-years-old, was sentenced to serve 10 years in prison after allegedly blaspheming during an argument with a friend.

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 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.