Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka has written an open letter to Mubarak Bala, the President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, who was arrested on 28 April at his home in Kaduna state, and taken to neighbouring Kano state.
He is accused of posting comments that were critical of Islam on Facebook, and has been charged under state law with violating a religious offence law and with cybercrime.
He has not been heard from since the day of his arrest. His wife Amina Mubarak, with whom he has a newborn son, told the Guardian in July: “At this point, I’m not even begging for his release, I just want his proof of life.”
Bala is the son of a widely regarded Islamic scholar. He renounced Islam in 2014, and his family in Kano forcibly committed him to a psychiatric facility for 18 days before he was discharged. He has been an outspoken critic of religion in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north, where open religious dissent is uncommon.
Soyinka, in the solidarity message to Mubarak published by is published by Humanists International said, despite the dangers, you have stood firm in your convictions and true to your values. You have lived. You have stood against the tide of religious imperialism.
The message read, I write to you today, on this day, the one hundredth day of your detention in an undisclosed location without access to your lawyers, your wife, or your newborn son.
As a child I remember living in a state of harmonious coexistence all but forgotten in the Nigeria of today, as the plague of religious extremism has encroached. We both have sought to challenge the ascendancy of religious jingoism. As a human rights activist, you have sought to promote freedom of belief and expression and grown to serve as President of the noble institution that is the Humanist Association of Nigeria.
Despite the dangers, you have stood firm in your convictions and true to your values. You have lived. You have stood against the tide of religious imperialism. You have fought for all Humanity, to ensure a better, fairer, world for all. You have not sought to appease those that treasure scrolls. You have not bowed to pressure to revere their unseen deities.
It beggars belief that Religionists still demand such reverence and seek to control our individual conduct. Do they not see the futility of their quest? How can they hope to rein in technology, to rein in questioning minds. I fear that, if they do not see sense we shall all be caught in a spiral of reprisals that will obscure the path to rational dialogue.
When I accepted the International Humanist Award at the World Humanist Congress in 2014, I spoke of the conflict between Humanists and Religionists; one of enlightenment versus the chains of enslavement. Your arbitrary incommunicado detention over the last 100 days is the cruel reality of this conflict. All too often these chains of enslavement lead directly to the gallows or a prison cell.
I imagine you pacing your cell, just as I have done. Feeling with each passing day, the added strain. But I know too, that with each passing day you will reach further into your reserves – reserves that you have always thought finite – and discover strength of which you had never dreamed.
I write today to tell you that you are not alone, there is a whole community across the globe that stands beside you and will fight for you. We will not rest until you are free and safe.