The National Secular Society of the United Kingdom has joined other secularist organisations in calling for a full pardon and civil protection for nine people recently sentenced to death by a Sharia court in Nigeria.
The letter, organised by the Secular Policy Institute, expresses deep concerns over the death sentences handed out for blasphemy and appeals to the Nigerian President, Governor, and Ambassador to ensure the preservation of the individuals’ rights of free conscience and religious expression.
The so-called ‘Kano Nine’ were sentenced to death by a sharia court in Kano state after what the BBC described as a “speedily done” and “secret” trial.
The charges centred around claims that the nine accused said that Niasse, the founder of the Tijaniya sect, was “bigger than [the] Prophet Muhammad”.
The nine are alleged to have made the comment at a religious gathering held to honour Niasse, in a venue which was burnt down by a mob before the nine (eight men and one woman) were arrested by police over the accusations.
The head of the religious police in Kano told the BBC: “We quickly put them on trial to avoid bloodshed because people were very angry and trying to take law into their hands.”
There were reports of celebrations across parts of the city when the death sentences were announced.
The Secular Policy Institute note that “comments by local-authorities expressing relief at stemming further vigilante acts” give the impression that the verdicts were the result of “political expedience rather than a fair administration of justice.”
The ‘Kano Nine’ are “being sacrificed to pacify a mob”, the signatories write.
There was extreme secrecy around the trial, and even the names of all of the accused are not known.
Nigeria operates two countervailing jurisprudences – Customary and Sharia. The Customary Criminal code would call for a maximum two-year sentence for purported violation, with the Sharia code specifying a death sentence.
The letter argues that at the very least the State should uphold civil over religious law.