A prominent Nigerian humanist accused of blasphemy has been arrested and taken to the northern city of Kano, according to figures close to him.
Mubarak Bala, the president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was taken from his home on 28 April in neighbouring Kaduna state and taken to Kano, where a warrant for his arrest was issued, Leo Igwe, a fellow Nigerian humanist and human rights advocate, said.
“We condemn his arrest and are extremely worried because this came after several threats made by the religious community in Kano,” Igwe said. “They are likely to try him under sharia law in Kano, which could lead to capital punishment.”
Sharia law is applied in 12 states across the predominantly Muslim north of Nigeria, including Kano where blasphemy is punishable by death.
Igwe said police had denied Bala access to a lawyer and had not said what the charges were, heightening fears for his safety.
“Our worst fear is that he would be taken to Kano because there are many figures who have been threatening him and promising to end his life,” Igwe said. “The Kano police told me he was in their custody, but for days now they haven’t given us any more information.”
Police in Kano would not confirm whether they were holding Bala.
In a statement, Humanist UK, the leading British humanist society, said: “We condemn in the strongest terms the arrest of our humanist colleague Mubarak Bala by the Nigerian authorities, who have accused him of ‘blasphemy’, which can carry the death penalty.”
Nigeria is a deeply religious country, mainly Christian in the south and largely Muslim in the north.
Bala, the son of a widely regarded Islamic scholar, has been an outspoken religious critic in a staunchly conservative region, where open religious dissent is uncommon. After renouncing Islam in 2014, he was forcibly committed to a psychiatric facility by his family in Kano before being discharged.
After Bala posted comments critical of Islam and religion on his Facebook profile recently he had received a surge of online accusations of blasphemy and threats, Igwe said, largely from figures in Kano.
Igwe said Bala had helped create a community for thousands of atheists, particularly in northern Nigeria. “To speak out and say you’re an atheist or humanist in Nigeria can be dangerous, but Bala is very passionate about creating a space for those who do not subscribe to Islam or religion,” he said.