|Mubarak Bala from his bed in Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital|
A Nigerian man has been detained and medicated for over a week on a psychiatric ward in Kano state, Nigeria, on the grounds that he is an atheist, his lawyer confirmed today.
The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is deeply concerned about the case, for the welfare of the detained man, and the human rights violation that his detention represents.
Communicating by email and Twitter from a secreted smartphone, Mubarak Bala was able to raise the alarm that he has been held against his will at Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital since Friday 13 June.
Reaching activists online early last week, he explained that he had been detained at the hospital on the grounds of a “personality change” because, having been raised in a Muslim family, he is now an atheist.
After one doctor dismissed claims of psychiatric problems, Mubarak’s family alleged that he also made delusional claims that he was a “governor”, Mubarak said. They also told “other trivial lies they could come up with”, including insinuations that his writing and activism on the Almajiri was a sign of madness, simply because it is “too big for me to initiate change”.
He wrote: “And the biggest evidence of my mental illness was large blasphemies and denial of ‘history’ of Adam, and apostacy [sic], to which the doctor said was a personality change, that everyone needs a God, that even in Japan they have a God. And my brother added that all the atheists I see have had mental illness at some point in their life.”
Mubarak had been somewhat open about his disagreement with religion, in a deeply Islamic part of the country. Soon after he was detained at the hospital posts appeared on Mubarak’s Facebook profile indicating that he was now a Muslim again. However, from the hospital, Mubarak wrote: “The fact that immediately I’m sedated they could take my phone and post [on Facebook] the Islamic Shahada proved their real intent, and family members (females) have been wailing that I’m bound for hell, so they had to make a move.”
Instructed by Bamidele Adeneye, secretary of the Lagos Humanists (an IHEU member organization) a lawyer has visited Mubarak in the hospital and has taken up the case.
Bamidele told IHEU, “Kano is a Sharia state and there are many similar cases occurring, where people are forcefully oppressed just because of their beliefs or for conservative religious reasons, or for the “honour” of their family. Often though you only hear about it afterwards, if at all. This is a rare chance to intervene while someone is in dire need and is still alive.”
For IHEU, Bob Churchill said, “It appears that a warped notion of family honour is the motivation to pressure Mubarak in this appalling manner, to conform to religious views that he simply doesn’t hold. This is an abhorrent violation of his freedom of thought and belief.
“In addition we are seriously concerned about Mubarak’s deteriorating condition. At his request, the lawyer has tried to take him some decent food, because Mubarak is weak and his hands were shaking after a week under medication. Also Mubarak’s messages, when he was still able to get messages out, have gone from almost bemused at his situation — saying “how funny” it was that his family equated atheism with mental illness — to quite desperate in recent days as the prospect of a quick release has diminished.
“We are joining with humanists and human rights advocates in Nigeria and the activists who have worked to highlight this case, in calling for an immediate re-evaluation of Mubarak’s case by a doctor who is entirely independent of the family, and for his swift release. We stress that holding naturalistic or atheistic views is a normal and reasonable position, that no one should be detained as a psychiatric patient for holding such beliefs, and that holding such beliefs is a human right under Article 18 of the relevant international treaties.”