CSOs condemn death sentence on Kano singer over blasphemy

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Ten civil society organisations (CSOs) have condemned the death sentence handed down by a Kano Upper Shari’a Court to a singer Yahaya Sharif-Aminu for blaspheming Prophet Muhammad.

The CSOs are Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network), Arterial Network Nigeria (host of Artwatch Africa in Nigeria), PEN Nigeria and Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), PEN America.

Others are Culture Advocates Caucus (CAC), Human Right Forum of Lead Africa International e.V, Germany, Intro Afrika (cultural organization advocating for social justice), Freemuse (international organization defending artistic freedom worldwide) and African Human Rights Network (AHRN).

Presiding judge Khadi Aliyu Kani had delivered the guilty verdict on Monday.

Mr Sharif-Aminu, a resident of Sharifai in Kano metropolis, was accused of committing blasphemy against the prophet in a song he circulated via WhatsApp in March.

The court also sentenced another man Umar Farouq of Sharada quarters in Kano metropolis to 10-year imprisonment for making “derogatory statements concerning the Almighty Allah in a public argument.”

Both men have one month to appeal the sentences.

However, in a joint statement on Friday, August 14, the CSOs said Sharif-Aminu’s conviction is in violation of international laws protecting freedom of expression.

“We, the undersigned civil society organizations strongly condemn the conviction and sentencing to death of young Nigerian gospel singer, Yahaya Sharif Aminu, for allegedly insulting the prophet Muhammad in a song he published. We are deeply concerned that his conviction and subsequent sentencing are in violation of Nigeria’s regional and international obligations to respect, protect and promote freedom of expression, opinion and belief,” they said.

The CSOs said they were concerned that the singer is reportedly being denied access to legal representation and to his immediate family.

“We therefore call on the Nigerian authorities to immediately and unconditionally overturn Mr. Sharif’s conviction and that he be immediately released. Pending his release, he must be guaranteed access to his lawyers and his family while in detention. We also call on the Nigerian government to urgently repeal all blasphemy laws, and to ensure that all individuals under its jurisdiction are afforded the right to freedom of religion, expression and opinion including through art and culture,” they said.

Global rights group Amnesty International has called on Kano State Governor Abdullahi Ganduje to overrule the conviction, saying it violates Nigeria’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Kano State was among several northern states to introduce Sharia Law in 1999.

Following the circulation of the song, the singer’s family home was burned by irate youths who marched to the Kano Hisbah Command’s headquarters to demand his arrest.

It was gathered that Sharif-Aminu is a follower of Tijjaniya sect which prefers Ibrahim Nyass, a famous Senegalese Islamic scholar over Prophet Muhammad.