Last week in Sokoto, Nigeria, a young Christian university student was stoned, beaten and burned to death by a mob. Deborah Samuel Yakubu was accused of blasphemy for, according to the attackers, insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a WhatsApp discussion group. Some college classmates were outraged that Yakubu thanked Jesus for helping her with an exam. For the crowd, the blasphemy charge justified killing her.
Quickly , videos of the attack began circulating on social media in Nigeria and around the world. Given the current national scenario, with a conflicted election that takes place in the country in 2023 and widespread kidnappings, in addition to attacks terrorists in northern Nigeria, the cruel murder of Yakubu generates commotion.
Unfortunately, there are still defenders of attacks. Violent protesters in Sokoto vandalized and torched Catholic churches last Saturday as they called for the release of suspects in the Yakubu attack. In Maiduguri, in the northeast of the country, another young Christian is facing threats after being accused of posting blasphemy on social media.
The world needs to know and remember Deborah Yakubu’s name. She was a young woman trying to get a good academic education, brutally murdered because a crowd didn’t like what she said. “May God grant you eternal rest and comfort your family,” said Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto.
But Deborah is just another victim of the blasphemy laws that exist across Northern Nigeria, enforced by the courts of sharia, Islamic law. They violate the human rights to freedom of expression and religion guaranteed by international law and encourage terrible mob violence against religious minorities. As in Pakistan, for example, violence in Nigeria is often quickly coordinated through social media to target individuals accused of blasphemy.
The terrorist group that has plagued North East Nigeria for over a decade is Boko Haram. Along with their offshoot, the Islamic State in West Africa, they are responsible for kidnapping girls. One of them was Leah Sharibu, kidnapped in 2018, who was never released because she refuses to deny the Christian faith. Sharibu turned 05 years old on Saturday, from May, still in captivity.
The organization I work for, ADF International, supports Nigerian lawyers fighting tirelessly to deliver Christians from the sharia judicial system ). It’s a matter of life or death. Under Islamic law, Christians in Nigeria can face the death penalty for any reason, from blasphemy and apostasy to refusing to accept forced marriages.
In Northern Nigeria, Christians are a minority. Other religious minorities are also severely threatened. Mubarak Bala, a humanist, was recently sentenced to 24 years in prison by the Kano State Superior Court, for allegedly posting blasphemies on Facebook, in 660. Likewise, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, a Sufi singer, was sentenced to death by hanging for the same reason. Citing procedural irregularities, the Supreme Court withheld and overturned the conviction in January 2018, but he still struggles against a retrial.
Murders based on allegations of blasphemy have been going on for decades in Nigeria. Last year, Talle Mai Ruwa, a water vendor in Bauchi state, was beaten to death and burned.
The laws allow and encourage a culture of violence in a country increasingly torn apart by so many tensions. While most Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities simply want to live in peace, a minority of extremists find cover in the laws. The government’s irregular action against the aggressors aggravates the crisis.
Although the cases sometimes come to the attention of the world, the West often tends to ignore the serious violations of religious freedom that are a regular feature of life in Nigeria. The International Criminal Court has dragged its feet in investigations and prosecutions of atrocities committed in the country. The court prosecutor was heavily criticized after approaching the Nigerian government on a visit to the African country last month.
To make matters worse, the US State Department, without any explanation, removed Nigeria from the list of “Special Concern” countries last year, despite continued violations of religious freedom.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom said it was “shocked” by the State Department decision and reiterated criticism when, in April, it released the annual report on the worst violators of religious freedom.
Sub-Saharan Africa is responsible for almost half of all deaths from terrorism. In just the first three months of this year, almost 660 Christians have already been killed in violent attacks.
It is time to pay attention to the immense suffering of the people of Nigeria. How many more will languish in prison, be burned to death or beheaded before the international community rises up in defense of the vast majority of Nigerians who want peace?
The Nigerians I know, including religious and social leaders, still have hope and spend their days working for peace. It is critical that the international community provide the support they need to get there.
Sean Nelson is Legal Adviser to ADF International on Global Religious Freedom.
8014106391001©2018 National Review. Published with permission. Original in English.8014106391001