The continued use of blasphemy laws to arrest, charge and impose death penalties on people in countries where such action is legal has come under renewed condemnation over a prominent case in Nigeria, and the arrests last week of two young Christian boys in Pakistan.
Young Nigerian Sufi musician, Yahaya-Sharif Aminu, faces death by hanging after being convicted of “blasphemy” by a sharia court, for two voice messages he sent on WhatsApp, according to legal advocacy group, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
“No one should be sentenced to death or thrown in prison for their peaceful expression and their beliefs”, commented Sean Nelson, Legal Counsel for ADF International. The group is coordinating a plea from 209 human rights and religious freedom organizations for his immediate release.
With support from ADF, Sharif-Aminu has appealed his case to the Supreme Court of Nigeria and is challenging the constitutionality of Sharia-based blasphemy laws. He remains in prison awaiting the Supreme Court appeal.
Arrests for alleged blasphemy in Pakistan have also been condemned by advocacy groups. In Lahore, on Friday a court ordered that Simon Nadeem, 12, and Adil Baber, 18, should be held in jail under section 295-C of Pakistan’s legal code - laws which relate to blasphemy.
In a submission to the court, police constable Zahid Sohail alleged that he heard the two boys discuss whether they should name a puppy ‘Muhammad Ali’, and that this amounted to blasphemy. The families of both boys deny even owning a dog.
The mother of one, Samina Nadeem, told Pakistan Christian News that the policeman “didn’t bother to find out the facts but started shouting and accusing the boys of committing blasphemy”.
She says a crowd gathered in response to the noise: “This infuriated some of them and they ran to beat both boys but somehow they managed to escape and save their lives.”
Nasir Saeed, Director of CLAAS-UK, a Christian advocacy group based in the UK and Pakistan, says these latest arrests are part of a pattern that has seen over 50 people accused of blasphemy in Pakistan so far this year. “Unfortunately people continue to use the blasphemy law over petty issues. They hardly hesitate to take the law into their own hands.”
“I don’t think these two young boys had ever thought that any passer-by could hear their conversation and accuse them of committing blasphemy and endanger their lives”, he said.
“Sadly misuse of the blasphemy has become so common and people never think twice about how dangerous its consequences could be”, he added.
ADF legal affairs expert, Lizzie Francis, told Premier Christian News that blasphemy laws are common in Muslim countries which use Sharia legal systems that criminalise speech considered insulting or offensive to the Islamic faith.
“There are 70 countries worldwide today that have these laws, where the punishments range from fines to imprisonment to even death sentences”, she told Premier. “Many Christians are targeted throughout the world”, she continued.
“Eighty per cent of all incidents of blasphemy allegations are within just four countries. So we see kind of a huge amount of Christian persecution, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, flowing from what Christians can say”, she concluded.