UN rights experts urge Nigeria to overturn death sentence for singer who shared song on WhatsApp

GENEVA (28 September 2020) – UN human rights experts* today called on Nigerian authorities to immediately release a 22-year-old singer sentenced to death over an allegedly blasphemous song shared on social media.

Yahaya Sharif-Aminu was given a death sentence on 10 August by a Sharia court in Kano state over a song judged blasphemous that he performed and shared in a WhatsApp group. The UN experts called for the death sentence to be overturned and for authorities to guarantee his safety and due process rights while he is appealing his conviction.

“We are deeply concerned over the serious lack of due process in Mr. Sharif-Aminu’s case so far, especially reports that he has been held incommunicado, and that he did not have access to a lawyer during his initial trial, a trial that was not open to the public,” the human rights experts said.

Mr. Sharif-Aminu, a musician and a follower of the Sufi Tijaniyyah order, was convicted for sharing a song he had written and performed through a WhatsApp group, which prompted some local politicians to call for his execution. A mob burned down his family home on 4 March.

“Artistic expression of opinion and beliefs, through songs or other media – including those seen to offend religious sensibilities – is protected in accordance with international law. The criminalization of these expressions is unlawful,” the experts said. “Music is not a crime.”

In addition, “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,” said Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights.

“We are also gravely concerned about Mr. Sharif-Aminu’s safety, in light of the death threats against him,” said the experts. “Nigeria must take effective measures to protect Mr. Sharif-Aminu, in detention as well as after his release.”

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