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Nigeria condemned for jailing 13-year-old on blasphemy charges

by Will Maule

The Nigerian authorities have been widely criticised for sentencing a 13-year-old boy to ten years in prison for blasphemy. Umar Farouq was convicted in August of making offensive remarks about God during an argument with a friend in northern Kano state.

The boy's lawyer, Kola Alapinni, has filed an appeal against the judgement. "This is a violation of the African Charter of the Rights And Welfare of a Child. A violation of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria," he said.

UNICEF has called on the Nigerian authorities to review the judgement, which was handed down by a court operating in accordance with Sharia law - there are twelve states across Nigeria's Muslim-majority north where Sharia is enforced.

"The sentencing of this child - 13-year-old Omar Farouq - to 10 years in prison with menial labour is wrong," said UNICEF's representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins. "It also negates all core underlying principles of child rights and child justice that Nigeria -- and by implication, Kano State -- has signed on to."

Hawkins added that the case "further underlines the urgent need to accelerate the enactment of the Kano State Child Protection Bill so as to ensure that all children under 18, including Omar Farouq are protected -- and that all children in Kano are treated in accordance with child rights standards".

Christian Solidarity Worldwide's (CSW) founder, Mervyn Thomas, said it was "unacceptable that a child could spend 10 of his most vital years in prison because of  words uttered carelessly in the heat of an argument with a friend." 

"Accusations of blasphemy are highly subjective," he added, "they arouse extreme and visceral reactions, which mitigate against justice and can lead to extrajudicial killings." 



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