Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka has never hesitated to speak out in the face of injustice. He recently penned a letter of solidarity to Mubarak Bala, the president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, on the 100th day of Bala’s detention. Bala had been arrested in late April on the charge of posting criticisms of Islam on Facebook and consequently violating a religious offense law. He was also accused of cybercrime. There has been no news of Bala since his arrest.
According to The Guardian, Bala is the son of a renowned Islamic scholar. When he renounced Islam in 2014, his family committed him to a psychiatric facility for 18 days. He has been an outspoken critic of religion in northern Nigeria, leading educational campaigns that advocate for freedom of religion or belief and that aim to raise awareness about religious extremism.
United Nations human rights experts have called for Bala’s release. In a statement published on July 24, 2020, they observe that “[t]he arrest and detention of Mr. Bala amounts to persecution of non-believers in Nigeria” and voice concern about Mr. Bala’s safety in detention.
Soyinka’s letter of solidarity was published on the Humanists International website. The letter recognizes Bala’s efforts to combat religious extremism and the humanism that lies at the heart of these efforts.
As I child I remember living in a state of harmonious coexistence all but forgotten in the Nigeria of today, as the plague of religious extremism has encroached. We both have sought to challenge the ascendancy of religious jingoism…. Despite the dangers, you have stood firm in your convictions and true to your values. You have lived. You have stood against the tide of religious imperialism. You have fought for all Humanity, to ensure a better, fairer, world for all.
Soyinka’s letter ends with him recounting his own experiences surviving detainment.
I imagine you pacing your cell, just as I have done. Feeling with each passing day, the added strain. But I know too, that with each passing day you will reach further into your reserves — reserves that you have always thought finite — and discover strength of which you had never dreamed.