December 10, 2023

Nigerian man sentenced to death for sharing ‘blasphemous’ song on WhatsApp

United Nations human rights experts condemn ‘flagrant violation’ of international law.

United Nations human rights experts have said they are “deeply concerned” about a Nigerian singer who has been sentenced to death over an allegedly blasphemous song he shared on social media.

Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, 22, was convicted of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad on 10 August by a Sharia court in Kano province, which is located in northern Nigeria.

Following the song’s circulation over WhatsApp in March, Mr Sharif-Aminu also received death threats and his family home has burned down by a mob.

The UN’s Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner this week urged authorities to overturn the death sentence and to ensure his safety, saying that Nigeria “must take effective measures to protect” him, calling his case a “flagrant violation” of international law.

“We are deeply concerned over the serious lack of due process in Mr. Sharif-Aminu’s case so far, especially reports that he has been held incommunicado, and that he did not have access to a lawyer during his initial trial, a trial that was not open to the public”, the office said in a statement.

Karima Bennoune, who serves as UN special rapporteur for cultural rights, added that  a death penalty “for artistic expression or for sharing a song on the Internet” constitutes a “flagrant violation of international human rights law, as well as of Nigeria’s constitution”.

Last month, the human rights organisation Amnesty International described the sentence as a “travesty of justice” and said Nigeria was obliged under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to restrict capital punishment to the “most serious crimes”, which involve intentional killing.

Osai Ojigho, Amnesty International’s Nigeria country director, said: “There are serious concerns about the fairness of his trial; and the framing of the charges against him based on his WhatsApp messages.”

“Furthermore the imposition of the death penalty following an unfair trial violates the right to life. Yahaya Sharif-Aminu must be released immediately and unconditionally,” she added.

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