The High Court of the Kano State of Nigeria Thursday acquitted a teenager sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered a fresh trial for a man sentenced to death after the convictions caused international outcry.
A Sharia (Islamic law) court had convicted the two individuals in August last year. The high court that overturned the convictions is in the secular branch, and the defendants’ lawyers argued that Sharia is incompatible with Nigeria’s secular constitution.
Omar Farouq was convicted of blasphemy because he allegedly made uncomplimentary comments about God while arguing with a friend. He was acquitted as he was a minor and had not received proper legal representation. Peter Hawkins, UN Children’s Fund representative in Nigeria, stated in September that Farouq’s sentence “negate[d] all core underlying principles of child rights and child justice that Nigeria – and by implication, Kano State – has signed on to.” Also in September, the director of Poland’s Auschwitz Memorial volunteered with 119 others to serve Farouq’s 10-year prison sentence, each volunteer offering to serve one month.
Yahaya Sharif-Aminu was convicted of blasphemy for sharing a song on WhatsApp that elevated an Imam from the Tijaniya Muslim brotherhood above the Prophet Muhammad. He was sentenced to death. The sentence was intended to deter others from insulting the prophet and occurred after protesters demanded action to be taken against him. He was not allowed to have legal representation before and during the trial in the Sharia court. He will likely remain in custody until his fresh trial.
Moving forward, the defense lawyer representing both Farouq and Sharif-Aminu stated that “their lives will never be the same.” Farouq’s parents had dissociated themselves from him, and it is likely unsafe for him to remain in Kano. Sharif-Aminu’s home was burned down by protestors, forcing his family to flee.