UN urges Nigeria to lift singer's death penalty for blasphemy

GENEVA • United Nations rights experts yesterday asked Nigeria to release a 22-year-old singer who was condemned to death over an allegedly blasphemous song, and said the sentence broke international law.

Yahaya Aminu Sharif was sentenced last month by a syariah court in Kano, the commercial hub of Nigeria's mostly Muslim north, after he performed the song and shared it on WhatsApp.

"Music is not a crime," read a joint statement from the group of UN rapporteurs.

Said special rapporteur on cultural rights Karima Bennoune: "Application of the death penalty for artistic expression or for sharing a song on the Internet is a flagrant violation of international human rights law, as well as of Nigeria's Constitution."

The rights experts said Nigeria should overturn the death sentence and guarantee the singer's safety while he launched an appeal.

Protesters enraged by the song burned down Sharif's family home on March 4.

There was no immediate reaction from the judicial authorities in Kano, which runs syariah alongside civil courts.

The state's justice system has been in the spotlight since a syariah court also sentenced a 13-year-old boy to 10 years in prison last month after he was accused of making blasphemous statements during an argument.

The head of Poland's Auschwitz Memorial has written to Nigeria's President, asking him to pardon the boy, Omar Farouq, and offering to serve part of the jail term himself.

Kano's syariah courts are active but death sentences for blasphemy are unusual.

NOT A CRIME

Music is not a crime.

JOINT STATEMENT FROM A GROUP OF UNITED NATIONS RAPPORTEURS

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2020, with the headline 'UN urges Nigeria to lift singer's death penalty for blasphemy'. Print Edition | Subscribe