Woman College-Goer Lynched, Burnt For ‘Blasphemy’ By Fellow Students In Nigeria
Nigeria's population is divided almost equally between Christians and Muslims and the latest incident is not the first time that a Christian has been lynched on charges of blasphemy.
A woman college student was lynched by a mob of fellow students for allegedly insulting Islam’s founder in Nigeria on Thursday. The victim, Deborah Samuel, was dragged out of a room and beaten up with stones and sticks, before being set on fire, as per various reports.
Just as citizens of Nigeria, and indeed across the world, were taking in the barbarity of the crime, a statement by an government official of the African country came as an even bigger shock.
As per reports, Anas Mohammed Sani, who is personal assistant to finance commissioner of Sokoto, justified the lynching on his social media account. He also threatened that more Christians will be murders if they insult Islam’s founder.
Deborah was Christian. Nigeria’s population is almost evenly divided between Muslims and Christians.
The college where this incident took place is located in Sokoto city of Nigeria’s Northwestern state, Kano.
Dozens of Muslim students of Shehu Shagari College of Education went on a protest on Thursday after Deborah shared an audio message on a student Whatsapp group. In the audio, Deborah objected to some Muslim students posting religious content on the group that was meant for sharing college-related information.
The English translation of her audio message, as posted by a mediaperson in Nigeria, is:
“Holy ghost fire, nothing would happen to me. Is it by force you guys keep sending these religious messages in our group? Our group wasn’t created for that, but rather as a notice for when there’s a test, assignment, examinations, etc. Not these nonsense religious posts. Which kind prophet, nonsense prophet.”
After the protest, college authorities tried to hide her in a security room. However, the mob managed to drag her out.
Videos posted by local journalists and activists show Deborah lying on the ground while a mob pelts stones at her and beat her with sticks. Another video shows members of the mob chanting Allahu Akbar (Allah is great) and owning up to the act, stones and sticks in hand. Some men are seen piling up tyres on her body.
Past cases in Nigeria
A little over half the population of Nigeria is Muslim and lives mainly in Northern states. Almost 45 percent are Christians, who live in the South. Less than 10 percent practice traditional religions, as per this report.
As per a recent report prepared by Unites States Commission on International Religious Freedom, 12 states in northern Nigeria have adopted Shariah penal codes since 1999.
“[Sharia penal codes] operate parallel to secular and customary courts. In deference to the country’s constitution, which protects Nigerians’ right to freedom of religion and belief, the penal codes do not apply to non-Muslims and exclude provisions against apostasy, which is typically punishable by death. Yet many Shariah laws in northern Nigeria continue to criminalize blasphemy and result in harsh punishments for blasphemers. Additionally, the Nigerian criminal code includes a penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment for insulting a person’s religion,” the report says.
Sokoto falls in the northwestern region of Nigeria.
As per fatwas by many prominent clerics and seminaries globally, punishment for “blasphemy” of Islam’s founder Mohammed is death. Even in countries that have amended their laws to make blasphemy punishable by death through hanging such as in Pakistan, it is mainly the fanatic mobs that kill the accused, often without any proof and relying on hearsay alone.
In Nigeria, many people have been thrown into jail for a long time after being convicted of blasphemy.
Some of the cases listed in the USCIRF report are:
Atheist activist Mubarak Bala in jail since 2020 for allegedly insulting Mohammed in a Facebook post. He remains in prison despite a court order for his release
In 2020, a 22-year-old Muslim man named Yahaya Sharif-Aminu was sentenced to death for blasphemy through private Whatsapp messages.
The same year, a 16-year-old boy, Umar Farouk, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after allegedly committing blasphemy in a verbal spat with a friend. However, he was later acquitted by a higher court. He expressed danger to his life after being freed from prison.
In 2016, a 74-year-old Christian trader, Bridget Agbahime, was lynched to death by a Muslim mob outside her shop in Kano after she was accused of blasphemy.
Last year, a mob in Darazo district in northeastern Bauchi state charred to death a man accused of he same offence.
Clamour for justice
Sokoto state's Governor Aminu Tambuwal issued an order the same day of the murder to close the college and directed the Ministry of Higher Education as well as security agencies to investigate the incident. The college has been now closed indefinitely.
The Catholic Diocese of Sokoto criticized the attack in a statement on Friday and called on state authorities to punish the culprits as per law.
Controversial rights group Amnesty International, besides Socio-Economic Rights Accountability Project or SERAP, condemned the attack and demanded justice. Find the report here
Voices such as Anas Mohammed Sani are, however, not rare. A Nigerian professor, I.A. Maqari, wrote on social media, “It should be known to everyone that we Muslims have some redlines beyond which MUST NOT be crossed. The dignity of the Prophet (PBUH) is at the forefront of the redlines. If our grievances are not properly addressed, then we should not be criticized for addressing them ourselves.”
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