22-year-old gospel singer, musician and composer, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu has been sentenced to death by hanging for blasphemy against Prophet Muhammed in Kano State, Northern Nigeria reported Legit. According to Within Nigeria, the musician was convicted under Section 382(b) of Kano Penal Code of 2000, and sentenced by Judge Aliyu Muhammad Kani, of the Kano Upper Sharia Court, located in Hausawa Filin Hockey. Sharif may appeal the verdict.
“The death sentence handed down to Yahaya Sharif-Aminu for his music is a grave breach of his right to life, right to freedom of artistic expression and violates Nigeria’s international obligations under the ICCPR. Freemuse condemns this sentence, to potentially end the life of an artist, calls for the unconditional dropping of these charges and urges Kano State authorities to abide by human rights protections of which they are party to,” said Sverre Pedersen, Freemuse Campaigns and Advocacy Manager.
The application of the death penalty violates Nigeria’s international obligations under the ICCPR to which it is party but also its’ own constitution (namely Section 38 and 39) which protects freedom of conscient, religion as well as freedom of thought and expression.
Sharif-Aminu was accused of committing blasphemy against Prophet Muhammed for a song he circulated via WhatsApp in March 2020, reported The Herald. According to PM News Nigeria, the song has sparked large protests amongst Sunni Muslims who have taken offence by it, forcing the musician to go into hiding after composing the song. According to The Herald, Sharif “belongs to a separate branch of Tijaniyya Sufi order, whose beliefs are considered heretical because of their different interpretation of some basic Islamic principles.”
On 28 February 2020, protesters burnt down his family home; they further stormed the Kano Hisbash Office, the police force in Kano state responsible for enforcement of the Sharia law, on 4 March.
The protests were led by Idris Ibrahim, a former governor of Kogi state in Nigeria, who said in a statement on the ruling: “When I heard about the judgment I was so happy because it showed our protest wasn’t in vain […] This [judgement] will serve as a deterrent to others who feel they could insult our religion or prophet and go scot-free.”
According to Deccan Herald, the protests led to the arrest of the artist and the four-month trial has been held behind closed doors due to security reasons.
Kano State runs parallel under a hybrid of a state and federal justice system and Sharia Law. The Sharia system of justice is applied in 12 states in Nigeria’s Muslim-dominated north and only Muslims can be tried in its courts, reported BBC. In a case similar to Sharif’s, Abdul Nyass has been found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to death in 2016, reported Africa News. The judgment of Judge Kani is not in line with international human right standards, as the right of freedom of religion or belief protects the right of the individual to practice their faith, and not religions or belief systems.
As well as calling for the repeal of blasphemy laws in line with the 2016 call of the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Freemuse fully endorses the statement of the 2019 UN Human Rights Committee which stipulates that “States should remove from national laws any application of the death penalty to crimes not involving intentional killing, such as drug-related offences or terrorism related crimes not involving intentional killing. The death penalty should especially not be imposed as a sanction for forms of non-violent conduct such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations.”
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