President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, Mubarak was arrested at his home in Nigeria's Kano State in April 2020. After nearly two years of pre-trial detention, he was sentenced to 24 years' imprisonment for blasphemy.
founding the Humanist Association of Nigeria
Mubarak Bala, head of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was arrested in April 2020 in the state of Kano in Nigeria. Though Mubarak had never been shy about his atheism, the arrest was made for a particular post he had made to Facebook in which he labeled the Prophet Muhammad a terrorist.
(This was not the first time Mubarak was persecuted for his atheism. In 2014, he was committed to a psychiatric facility over it.)
Having been raised in a prestigious and highly religious family, Mubarak underwent a gradual process of apostasy throughout his life as he met more people from different places. He has written that the turning point for him in openly declaring his atheism was seeing a video of a beheading online.
Mubarak had since always been a vocal defender of secular values and freedom of thought, though he had often received threats and abuse for voicing skepticism in the past—including from a member of Kano police who threatened to kill him.
"I wish and plan for a society saturated with tolerance, peace, accommodation, reason and harmony. It may not be today that we solve all our problems but we need to see religious indoctrination as the viral programme it is." - Mubarak Bala
Mubarak was apparently barred from seeing his lawyers, and the legal process was bogged down by frequent delays. A group of UN experts signed on to a letter calling for his release, writing that they feared he might unduly face the death penalty.
Rumors began to circulate of Mubarak's death in October 2020 from injuries sustained while in custody, but Humanists International verified these to be false shortly thereafter. While in prison, he had reportedly "been denied access to healthcare, kept in solitary confinement," and made "to worship the Islamic way" despite his atheism. In August 2021, after more than a year in detention, Mubarak was finally charged with blasphemy.
In April 2022, after a long period of maintaining his innocence, Mubarak finally pled guilty to his charges and was sentenced to 24 years in prison. His lawyer said that Mubarak believed the judge presiding over his case was "compromised" and that he preferred the ordeal to be over with; Leo Igwe of the Nigerian Humanist Association meanwhile implied that Mubarak's guilty plea was the result of immense and sustained pressure from prosecutors and authorities.
"He thinks the judge is compromised … and that he would rather just have closure." - James Ibori, Mubarak's lawyer, on Mubarak's decision to plead guilty
Kano State authorities noted that Mubarak could appeal the verdict if he so wished.
Mubarak Bala - Humanists International
UN rights experts urge Nigeria to immediately release humanist accused of blasphemy - Humanists International
Concerns for well-being of Nigerian humanist Mubarak Bala - Humanists International
My Journey from Islamist to Free Thinker - Mubarak Bala (in Feminist Dissident)
Nigeria is a Muslim-majority country, though only narrowly, and nearly half of its inhabitants are Christians. The division between the two faiths manifests along geographical lines, with Muslims living mostly in the northern regions and Christians living mostly in the southern regions. Insults to religion in general are punishable for all citizens, while crimes more specific to Islam, including apostasy, are punished only in states that incorporate Islamic courts for their Muslim residents.