UNICEF Lambastes Nigeria Over Boy, 13, Jailed 10 Years For Blasphemy

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has condemned the imprisonment of a 13-year-old Nigerian boy over blasphemy.

Omar Farouq was sentenced to 10 years in prison with menial labour in August by a Sharia court in the northern state of Kano for allegedly making a derogatory statement about Allah.

Reacting to the judgement, the UNICEF “expressed deep concern” over the imprisonment and treatment of Farouq.

Peter Hawkins, the Unicef representative in Nigeria, described the Sharia Court ruling as “wrong”, adding that “it also negates all core underlying principles of child rights and child justice that Nigeria – and by implication, Kano State – has signed on to.”

The sentence is in contravention of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Nigeria ratified in 1991, Unicef said in a statement.

Unicef called on the Nigerian federal and state authorities to urgently review the case with a view to reversing the sentence.

Several states in northern Nigeria introduced Sharia after the country returned to civilian rule in 1999.

The Sharia courts only try Muslims but if a case involves a Muslim and a non-Muslim, the non-Muslim will be given the option of choosing where he/she wants the case to be tried.

The Sharia court can only hear the case if the non-Muslim gives written consent.

Meanwhile, Farouq has appealed the judgment that convicted him at the Kano State High Court on August 10, 2020.

The boy was convicted and sentenced by Aliyu Kanu, the same judge, who sentenced a musician, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, to death for blaspheming Prophet Mohammed.

In a suit filed at the Kano State High Court on Monday 7 September 2020, Kola Alapini, Omar’s counsel, on behalf of the Foundation for Religious Freedom (FRF), asked the court to set the judgment aside.

The respondents in the appeal included the Kano State governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, Commissioner of Police and the Attorney-General of the state.

According to a copy of the court document, the teenager pleaded that the court should set aside the judgment because the law used to convict him was unconstitutional and conflicts with the Nigerian constitution, African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

He added that the Sharia law is only applicable and permissible in Islamic theocracies or countries whose constitution allows for such laws and not in Nigeria — a secular state with constitutional democracy.

“The offence of blasphemy is no longer a cognisable offence in Nigerian by virtue of Section 10 standing alone or in conjunction with Sections 38 and 39 of the constitution respectively. A capital offence seeking to terminate human life must comply strictly and especially with the right to life provisions of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“The Kano State government lacks the constitutional authority to adopt legislative mechanism to exclusively compensate Muslims for its lack of performance in providing good order and security by enacting unconstitutional laws that curtail the right to freedom of expression and freedom of conscience and blasphemy laws essentially censored religious opinions, critical expression of human conscience and thoughts and significantly,” he said.

The FRF in a statement condemned the earlier judgment.

“On Monday, 7th September, 2020 we on behalf of the Foundation for Religious Freedom successfully filed an appeal with number K/40CA/2020 on behalf of Omar Farouq at the Kano State High Court.

“Omar Farouq is a 13-year-old boy (a minor in the eyes of the law) sentenced to 10 years imprisonment with menial labour for blasphemy. In the same Sharia court in Filin Hockey, Kano, by the same judge that sentenced Yahaya Sharif-Aminu. Both boys were convicted the same day.

“This is a violation of the African Charter of the rights and welfare of a vhild. A violation of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Kano State Government will have their day in court,” the group said.

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