Human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, has petitioned the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Banjul, The Gambia, over the decision of an Upper Sharia Court in Kano State sentencing a musician, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, to death for blaspheming Prophet Mohammed. Falana is asking the commission to exercise its mandate and authority under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and pursuant to the commission’s order 100(1) of the commission’s Rules of Procedure, 2020.
Sharif-Aminu, aged 22, was in August sentenced to death for committing blasphemy against Prophet Mohammed in a song he circulated via WhatsApp.
He was accused of committing the offence in March 2020 after, which protesters burnt down his family house.
Falana in the petition dated 8 September, 2020, described the judgment as gross violation of the convict’s rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and expression. He said, “I am writing to you on behalf of Yahaya Sharif-Aminu to ask the commission to consider this request for provisional measures.
“The request is submitted in conjunction with our communication on behalf of Sharif-Aminu convicted and sentenced to death for blasphemy in Kano State of Nigeria.
“Despite their obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other international treaties to which Nigeria is a state party, the Nigerian authorities continue to violate the fair trial and other rights of the petitioner and put him at risk of imminent execution.
“In particular, there are serious, persistent and irreparable violations of the petitioner’s rights to life and to fair trials, including to competent and effective legal representation.
“When the petitioner informed the court that he could not afford and secure the services of a lawyer to defend him, the court ordered the Legal Aid Council to assign him a lawyer so that the petitioner could enjoy access to legal representation. However, the order was disobeyed by the Legal Aid Council. The Legal Aid Council is the body established by law to provide legal support to indigent citizens especially in cases involving death penalty.
“The petitioner is at risk of imminent execution. Nigeria is a state party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights but there is growing crackdown on human rights including the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and attack on the rule of law and independence of the judiciary in Nigeria. As a result, human rights continue to be violated with impunity.
“The right to a fair trial including to legal representation is a fundamental safeguard to assure that individuals are not unjustly punished. It is indispensable for the protection of other human rights such as the right to freedom from torture and the right to life. However, when people are subjected to unfair trials, justice cannot be served.
“For the above reasons, the petitioner considers that the application of the death penalty in his case will be illegal and unjust. The petitioner considers supervening factors such as those highlighted above to be sufficient grounds for setting aside the death sentences imposed on him.”