Since May 2022, when Jatau posted a video on WhatsApp denouncing mob behavior against another lady, she has been detained.
Nigeria’s Lagos Rhoda Ya’u Jatau has been detained by the authorities for the last year on accusations of blasphemy against Islam. She sent a message with her coworkers that denounced a mob action that occurred in May of last year.
After sending the video denouncing Deborah Yakubu’s burning death in Sokoto, another state, due to blasphemy, the healthcare administrator with the Warji local government in Bauchi, northeastern Nigeria, was taken into custody a few days later.
The prosecution claims that Jatau, 45, committed many offenses including inciting unrest, cyberstalking, and showing disrespect for religious beliefs by spreading the video.
A Bauchi state high court denied her “no-case submission” on Monday. Lead attorney Kola Alapinni, who is acquainted with the case and works for the charity Foundation for Religious Freedom in Abuja, said Al Jazeera that the defense team is anticipated to present a case when the court reconvenes in December.
Jatau, a Christian mother of five, may spend a few years in prison if proven guilty, he added.
In certain sections of Nigeria, a nation with a long history of religious fanaticism, the court’s ruling has provoked popular indignation.
“This truly demonstrates the extent to which extremism has seeped into our institutions,” stated Ndi Kato, a lawmaker and executive director of Dinidari, an organization that advocates for women’s rights in the Middle Belt, or central Nigeria as it is commonly called. “You’re going to lock someone up for just sharing a message because you don’t think it supports your beliefs? That has no place in today’s culture, in my opinion.
Nigeria is nominally a secular nation whose constitution permits freedom of expression and religion association. However, half of Nigerians are Muslims and forty-five percent of their fellow citizens are Christians. Religious conflicts have permeated many aspects of life in this ethnically diverse nation for decades. This is especially noticeable in northern Nigeria, where since the nation’s restoration to democracy in 1999, some governments have enacted strict versions of Islamic law.
Dissenting views and sentiments, or activities considered blasphemous, have frequently caused riots, mob action, or jail terms in the area, both before and after the legislation. Throughout the north, sentences that opponents of Islamic law deem severe—such as the death by stoning—have been pronounced time and time again.
One of Nigeria’s 36 states, Bauchi, which is positioned between the primarily Muslim northeast and the mostly Christian Middle Belt, has also experienced this. In 2001, the state enacted Islamic law.
According to Alapinni, Nigeria is one of the seven nations where blasphemy carries a death sentence and one of the 12 that still consider it a crime.
Blasphemy or claims of blasphemy are increasingly being used as a vehicle for egregious human rights violations or even for “settling personal scores,” according to Isa Sanusi, country director for Amnesty International in Nigeria.
He said to Al Jazeera, “Time and time again, Nigerian authorities failed to uphold and protect human rights by ensuring that people are not either killed or attacked for expressing their opinions.”
The general secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Bauchi, Wakili Mathew Laslimbo, stated that the detention of Jatau has angered the state’s minority Christian population. He told Al Jazeera that, to no purpose, the association had made every effort to assist, including attempting to meet with the state governor.
“The arrest demonstrates to us how severely curtailed the freedoms of speech and religion are… During events, the church keeps her in its prayers, according to her pastor, Rev. Ishaku Dano Ayuba, who spoke to Al Jazeera.
An inquiry for remarks was not answered by the state administration of Bauchi. Presidential spokeswoman Temitope Ajayi told Al Jazeera that the federal government was unaware of the situation.
An extreme behavior pattern
In recent years, there have also been additional well-known instances of blasphemy.
Atheist and Humanist Association of Nigeria president Mubarak Bala was detained in 2020 after he was accused of posting a profane message on his Facebook page. Similar to this, Sufi (Islamic) gospel performer Yahaya Sharif-Aminu received a death sentence for allegedly posting obscene song lyrics on WhatsApp. The legal matter is still pending.
Amnesty International has demanded that their rights be protected upon their swift and unconditional release.
The director of Amnesty International, Sanusi, stated, “Nigerian authorities must wake up to their national and international legal obligations to protect and promote human rights, including the right to freedom of religion.”
A declaration on the subject was made public in August by the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.
It stated, “We express concern over the increasing incidents of violence related to accusations of blasphemy targeting religious minorities in Nigeria and the criminalization of blasphemy in Nigeria in violation of international human rights law and standards.”
Sanusi claims that in order to discourage future offenders, the most recent case emphasizes the necessity of justice through a fair trial for everyone suspected of being involved in mob violence.
Yakubu’s lynching in Sokoto resulted in the arrest of his attackers, but they were cleared of all charges since the prosecution neglected to appear in court. Jatau, on the other hand, has been detained by the police without being granted bail, and her family has been hiding out of fear for their safety.
According to Dindari’s Kato, Jatau’s continued struggle is indicative of a pattern that suggests women in the north and throughout Nigeria are not protected.
“The person who is going to jail is the one who was complaining about this injustice,” she declared. It is depressing to see how women are eliminated by extremism. This indicates that women are not safe, and communication is necessary.
In August of last year, the sultan of Sokoto, who is regarded as the head of all Muslims in Nigeria, declared to incoming participants in the one-year national youth service program that non-Muslims would not be subject to Islamic law.
Alapinni concurs, pointing out that the Court of Appeal in Nigeria has decided in two previous cases that Islamic law is restricted to Islamic personal law, which covers marriage, succession, and inheritance.
“Sharia criminal law has no place under the constitution,” he said. “The Sokoto sultan is correct when he states that non-Muslims are not meant to be impacted by Sharia law. Actually, it was a mistake to enact the Sharia criminal code in the first place. In a multicultural, diversified, and multireligious nation like Nigeria, [it] has no place,” he declared.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA