A Nigerian singer was sentenced to death by hanging this week after being found guilty of blasphemy for posting a song about the Prophet Muhammad on a WhatsApp group.
Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, a 22-year-old gospel singer, was virtually unknown before he posted a song praising a local imam from the Tijaniya Muslim brotherhood in one line of a song he shared on the Facebook-owned messaging app.
But after the song was shared, he was forced into hiding. Protesters burned down his family home and called for his arrest, and his family disowned him.
“I want to categorically inform the general public that blasphemy is not my ideology, and I promise to arrest [my son] and hand him over to security agents whenever he is found,” Aminu Sharif, the singer’s father, said, according to local media reports. “If I had the authority to punish him by law, I will do that right away.”
Sharif-Aminu was sentenced Monday by a Sharia court in Kano state, one of Nigeria’s 12 Muslim-majority states, where Sharia courts operate in parallel with secular state courts.
The Sharia courts reintroduced the death penalty in 1999. Multiple death sentences have been handed down since then, but they are rarely carried out. According to the BBC, only one death sentence has been carried out since, when a man convicted of killing a woman and her two children was hanged in 2002.
A death sentence needs to be ratified by a state governor before it can be carried out.
Sharif-Aminu has 90 days to appeal the sentence to the civil supreme court, which can overturn a death conviction of the Sharia courts.
Outside the court, protesters who had called for Sharif-Aminu to be sentenced to death were happy with the verdict. “When I heard about the judgment, I was so happy, because it showed our protest wasn't in vain,” Idris Ibrahim told the BBC. “This [judgment] will serve as a deterrent to others who feel they could insult our religion or prophet and go scot-free.”
Human rights groups in Nigeria and around the world have condemned the sentence and called on the government to overturn the ruling.
”It is unconscionable that Sharif-Aminu is facing a death sentence merely for expressing his beliefs artistically through music,” said Frederick Davie, the commissioner of U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. “The U.S. Senate should work swiftly to pass [legislation] which calls for the global repeal of heresy, blasphemy, and apostasy laws.”
Cover: In this illustration photo, the logo of WhatsApp is displayed on a smartphone in Tehatta, Nadia, West Bengal, India on June 10, 2020. (Photo Illustration by Soumyabrata Roy/NurPhoto via AP)