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UN Experts Call for Release of Nigerian Blasphemy Convict, Urge Abolition of Death Penalty for Such Offences

UN experts have urged Nigeria to release Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, expressing concerns over his prolonged detention for exercising his human rights.

United Nations (UN) experts have urged Nigerian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, who was convicted of blasphemy for writing a song and sharing it on a social messaging service and sentenced to death in 2020.

They urged the Nigerian government to abolish the imposition of the death penalty for the crime of blasphemy and ensure it is restricted to the “most serious crimes”, after a fair trial upholding fundamental safeguards, in accordance with the country’s obligations under international human rights law.

The experts include: Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Nazila Ghanea, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief and Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Others are: Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers as well as Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions.

A statement on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCR) described Special Rapporteurs as Independent Experts and Working Groups which are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.

Special Procedures, it said, are the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system and is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms.

Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.

They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organisation. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

The experts said: “Although his death sentence was quashed by a court of appeal, we remain deeply concerned that Sharif-Aminu’s case will be re-prosecuted based on the same legal framework, the Kano State Sharia Penal Code Law, with serious risks that the death sentence will be confirmed,” the experts said.

They added: “We note that the Supreme Court of Nigeria has been seized of the matter but remain deeply concerned that Sharif-Aminu has been in prison for too long for exercising his human rights”

They recalled that all people have the right to freedom of expression and to manifest their religion or belief, as well as to take part in cultural life and the development of their society through artistic expression, without fear of imprisonment, reprisals or even execution.

“We urge the Supreme Court to consider Sharif-Aminu’s case as a priority, and to urgently adopt a decision taking into consideration Nigeria’s obligations under international human rights law,” the experts said.

They requested the government to promptly review Sharif-Aminu’s situation, guarantee protection of his human rights and ensure his physical and psychological wellbeing as well as that of anyone seeking to assist him to defend his human rights.

“Should the death sentence be re-confirmed by a court, the government must issue a stay of execution until Nigeria’s laws comply with its international human rights obligations in matters relating to the death penalty,” they said.

The imposition of the death penalty on charges of blasphemy, they maintained, would amount to an arbitrary deprivation of life under international law.

The experts also recommended that Nigeria establish a moratorium on the death penalty, with a view to completely abolishing it.

The experts have raised Sharif-Aminu’s case with Nigerian authorities since his arrest in 2020, the release noted.

Emmanuel Addeh

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