Get Nigerian humanist released, FFRF urges new intl. religious freedom ambassador

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking the new international religious freedom ambassador to fully embrace his mandate right from the start.

The U.S. Senate has just confirmed Rashad Hussain as the next ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, making him the first Muslim American in the post. The state/church watchdog is calling on Hussain to defend religious freedom abroad, and reaffirm his strong history of condemning anti-blasphemy laws, by demanding that the Nigerian government immediately release a freethinker accused of the noncrime of blasphemy.

Mubarak Bala, an atheist, is the head of the Humanist Association of Nigeria. Three days after criticizing the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook on April 25, 2020, Bala was detained. Bala’s first child was born just six weeks before his arrest, and now after more than a year, Bala has finally been formally charged. Bala reportedly faces “10 counts of causing a public disturbance in connection to Facebook posts he is alleged to have made over the course of April 2020, which are deemed to have caused a public disturbance due to their ‘blasphemous’ content.”

Blasphemy punishments are a worrisome global problem. Nearly 70 countries have blasphemy laws, with more than a third of those countries located in Africa. These laws violate our most essential human rights: the freedom of thought, freedom of religion and freedom of speech. State-enforced blasphemy law is particularly egregious in Bala’s case because he was not charged with a crime as an accused until well over a year after being taken into custody.

Hussain has himself written that “blasphemy bans violate human rights and undermine the objectives they seek to achieve.” Bala’s case is a perfect example of harmless conduct by a marginalized religious minority that, based on an anti-blasphemy law, has been met with outrageous, excessive governmental force.

“Demanding his immediate release is an opportunity to reiterate your stance on this important issue and to use your prominent position to work toward the essential goal of ending blasphemy prohibitions globally,” FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write to Hussain.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom condemned Bala’s arrest in May of 2020, but to date the State Department has apparently taken no action whatsoever. FFRF wrote to Hussain’s predecessor Sam Brownback last year to no avail. Please stand up for religious freedom, and freedom of speech and conscience, by publicly condemning this victimless crime and demanding that the Nigerian government set Bala free at once, FFRF is insisting to Hussain.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 35,000 members across the country, with members in every state. FFRF protects the constitutional separation between state and church and educates about nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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