The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has called on Nigerian authorities to overturn the death sentence handed down to Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, a 22-year-old musician based in Kano state.
Sharif-Aminu was sentenced to death by hanging in August 2020 by a sharia court in Kano, over an allegedly blasphemous song he shared on WhatsApp.
The sharia court found Sharif-Aminu guilty of blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad by praising a local imam from the Tijaniya Muslim brotherhood in the song.
However, in a statement in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday, the UNHRC said due process was not followed in the trial, and called for a reversal of the court’s decision to sentence the musician to death.
“We are deeply concerned over the serious lack of due process in 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 body said.
“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 criminalisation of these expressions is unlawful. Music is not a crime.”
The rights council also expressed “grave concern” about the musician’s safety, and called on the Nigerian government to “take effective measures to protect Sharif-Aminu, in detention as well as after his release”.