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UN Rapporteur Demands Release of Christian Mother Jailed for Blasphemy in Nigeria’s Bauchi State

By Masara Kim

A United Nations Special Rapporteur has expressed “deep concern” over the criminalization of blasphemy in Nigeria contrary to international human rights law and standards.

A recent joint report by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Nazila  Ghanea and others queried the rising cases of violence relating to accusations of blasphemy targeting religious minorities in Nigeria by mob attacks and killings under democratic regimes.

“We would like to bring to the attention of your Excellency’s Government information we have received concerning the killing of Ms. Deborah Emmanuel, following accusations of blasphemy in relation to insult of the Prophet Mohammed, at the hands of a mob,” according to the report.

“We have also received information regarding the arrest and alleged prolonged arbitrary detention of Ms. Rhoda Ya’u Jatau on the allegation that she had shared a WhatsApp video condemning the lynching of Ms. Emmanuel,” says the report, jointly issued by Nazila Ghanea and four others.

“Both cases appear to be related to the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and of freedom of opinion and expression. Both are members of a religious minority,” the report stated.

Judge Fatima Jibrin on October 16 scheduled November 27 to continue trial for Mrs. Rhoda Ya’u Jatau following a compelling application by defense attorneys seeking to void all charges against her.

The mother of five was  arrested from her hometown in the Warji county of Bauchi State on May 20, 2022 after she shared a video of a man criticizing the mob lynching of a Christian college student 470 miles away in Sokoto state the week prior.

Rhoda Jatau Adamu, left sits in court behind her husband, Ya’u Adamu on Oct.16. credit: Masara Kim. 
Rhoda Jatau Adamu, left sits in court behind her husband, Ya’u Adamu on Oct.16. credit: Masara Kim. 

Jatau, who worked as supervisor at a government clinic, forwarded the two minutes, twenty-six seconds-long video

in a closed WhatsApp group for clinic staff. However, her Muslim colleagues reported it as blasphemy and mobilized local youth to seek retribution.

In a matter of minutes, more than 200 youths, shouting “God is great” in Arabic, surrounded Jatau’s residence in Katanga, demanding her life. The ensuing violence left at least 15 Christian residents injured, including a pastor, local persons told TruthNigeria. After failing to get their target the mob embarked on a random raid of Christian homes and businesses, attacking with sticks, stones, and machetes.

Shortly thereafter Jatau was on her way to a jail cell, having been arrested from her workplace by the Department of State Services, often compared to the FBI in the United States. Her husband and children, who were also away from home, instantly went into hiding, where they have remained to this day.

Bauchi authorities charged her with “inciting public disturbance as well as insulting and exhibiting contempt of religious creed” under section 114 and 210 of the 2006 Bauchi State Penal Code and refused to grant her bail.

The penalty for such offenses under the penal code law, which is applicable only in the predominantly Muslim northern regions of Nigeria, is a maximum of three years in prison, with or without a fine.

But Jatau has remained in jail for the past 1 year and 5 months, approximately 515 days. She has only been allowed intermittent access to her family and attorneys, TruthNigeria has learned. Rights lawyers fighting for her release have faced difficulties in securing bail while her trial is ongoing. They have faced rejections from Muslim judges who argue that her release might trigger religious riots.

“This goes against international human rights laws and standards,” UN rapporteur said in her report.

“We would like to reiterate observations made by previous Special Procedures mandate holders who have stated that blasphemy laws are “counterproductive and may have adverse consequences for members of religious minorities, dissenting believers, atheists, artists, and academics”,” the report stated.

“Blasphemy laws repeatedly have been shown to violate freedom of religion and belief as well as have a stifling effect on open dialogue and public discourse,” it notes, demanding accountability from the Nigerian authorities.

The team’s report was sent to the Nigerian government under embargo on August 4 under, but was not acknowledged for 60 days, forcing it to be released to the public.

On October 16, defense attorneys attempted to push for the dismissal of all the charges against her. Their application dated September 15 2022 and filed on September 18 2022 was not heard till October 16, after several adjournments.

Lead attorney Joseph Danboyi argued the prosecution has failed to prove any wrongdoing by Mrs. Jatau and asked the court to discharge and acquit

her.

Judge Fatima Jibrin adjourned the court until November 27 to rule on the “no-case” application. Defense attorney Solomon Dalyop told TruthNigeria the application,  if successful, would see the total freedom of Jatau, marking a significant milestone in the struggle for religious freedom in a country charged with widespread violations. If otherwise, Jatau could perpetually remain in jail.

“This, therefore, calls for prayers and the intervention of all advocates of religious freedom around the world,” wrote Dalyop to TruthNigeria.

“The implication is that, should the court uphold the ‘No Case Submission’ in its ruling, the Defendant would be discharged on the next adjourned date,” Dalyop wrote in a text message. “If the contrary happens, it will behoove Mrs. Rhoda to enter her defense in a case that would be starting all over, and lasting for another long period of time,” he wrote.

Masara Kim is an award-winning conflict reporter in Jos and the senior editor of TruthNigeria.com .

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