Four human rights lawyers have written President Muhammadu Buhari over the continued illegal detention of Mubarak Bala.
Bala, who is the president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was arrested at his home in Kaduna State on April 28, 2020, over his Facebook post considered to be critical of Islam.
The post reportedly caused outrage among Muslims in some parts of the highly conservative northern part of the country.
In an open letter, the human rights lawyers, Kola Alapinni, A. A. Muhammad, Ebuka Ikeorah and Rouf Gazali urged the Nigerian government to uphold the fundamental human rights of the incarcerated humanist.
The lawyers noted that Bala, who is hypertensive, has been denied access to medical care and had only been given access to his lawyers once since he was detained in 2020.
They also stated that Bala had yet to be arraigned and that it took security agencies 14 months to charge him to court.
This, according to them, violates the provisions of the Constitution, which require citizens to be charged and brought before a court within 7 days or be released (S35 (4).
The lawyers asked that the President instruct the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami to transfer Bala to prison in Abuja and ensure that he has full access to his lawyers and family, who reside in Abuja.
They also asked that the humanist should be given access to medical care.
The letter reads: “We are four Nigerian human rights lawyers, and we write to you, the President of Nigeria, as the person who is entrusted above all others to uphold the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to protect the human rights of its citizens and safeguard the good reputation of our nation.
“We beseech you to consider the case of Mubarak Bala. Following a complaint about a post he made on social media, Mr Bala was arrested at his home in Kaduna on April 28, 2020 and taken the following day to Kano where he was detained by police.
“Mr Bala was held incommunicado and denied access to his lawyers. This is contrary to S36 (6)(c) of the Constitution which gives detainees the right to be represented by a lawyer of their choice.
“After many unsuccessful attempts to gain access to their client, on June 17, 2020, Bala's lawyers applied to a magistrate for an order to be permitted to see their client. A Court Order was granted and served on the Kano Commissioner of Police on July 16, 2020. This Court Order was disregarded.
“Since then, Mr Bala's lawyers have been granted only one meeting with their client in late 2020, more than seven months after his arrest. This was unacceptably late, and it was insufficient to deal with the complex issues of this case and to safeguard Mr Bala's well-being.
“We are aware that Mr Bala requires regular medication for hypertension, but he has been denied access to a doctor since April 2020 and has received no medication for his ongoing condition.
“On May 8, 2020, Mr Bala's lawyers filed a petition at the Federal High Court in Abuja to enforce his fundamental rights. In accordance with the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009, such petitions must be given the highest priority and should be heard
within 7 days (Order IV section 1).
“The Preamble to the Rules (3)(g) is unambiguous, 'Human rights suits shall be given priority in deserving cases. Where there is any question as
to the liberty of the applicant or any person, the case shall be treated as an emergency'.
“Yet a series of delays (mainly caused by Kano State lawyers not attending court hearings and absent judges) resulted in the case not being heard until October 19, 2020, 164 days after
the Fundamental Rights Enforcement notice was filed. That it took so long for an emergency case to be heard in Nigeria is appalling.
“The judgment was delivered on December 21, 2020. The court found that Bala was being detained in gross violation of his fundamental rights. The court ordered the respondents to issue an apology, to pay compensation and to release Mr Bala immediately. Mr Bala was not released.
“Mr Bala's lawyers filed a second emergency Fundamental Rights Enforcement petition on January 28, 2021. A hearing was scheduled for March 1, 2021 but was adjourned to April 25, 2021 and then was adjourned again.
“Currently no date is scheduled for this emergency case to be heard.
“Mr Bala was not charged with any offence until June 2021 (14 months after he was arrested) and he is yet to be arraigned.
“This is in gross violation of the Constitution, which requires citizens to be charged and brought before a court within 7 days, or to be released (S35 (4).
“Mr President, in what way has the Nigerian state safeguarded Mr Bala's fundamental rights? It has not. It has violated them systematically and repeatedly. Sir, please help right this wrong that has occurred on your watch.
“Mr Bala has now been deprived of his liberty for more than 520 days but has yet to be found guilty of any crime. Indeed, the case against him has yet to be heard in court.
“Kano State has amply demonstrated its inability to treat Mr Bala fairly and legally. This case has been widely reported in Nigerian and world news, and many foreign governments have expressed their concern.
“For these reasons, and because of the deep violations of fundamental rights
involved, we believe you can, and should, intervene.
“This case began under the jurisdiction of Kano State but the Federal Government was joined in the matter as far back as May 19, 2020, when the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) was cited as a respondent in Bala's first Fundamental Rights Enforcement petition.
“You could end this tragedy by instructing the AGF to transfer Mr Bala to a prison in Abuja and to ensure that he has full access to his lawyers, to his family who reside in Abuja and to medical treatment.
“Furthermore, you can instruct the AGF to treat Mr Bala's second Fundamental Rights Enforcement case with the emergency it requires.
“Let the courts decide if Mr Bala has committed any crime but, in the meantime, restore to him the rights the Constitution guarantees him. That is all we ask.”