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Nigerian court acquits minor on appeal following blasphemy conviction

GlobalJan 21, 2021 18:12
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* Nigeria operates Islamic and secular courts in northern
* Sharia convictions for blasphemy prompted global outcry
* Secular court acquitted boy sentenced to 10-year jail term
* Man sentenced to death over WhatsApp message faces retrial

By Hamza Ibrahim
KANO, Nigeria Jan 21 (Reuters) - A court in northern Nigeria
on Thursday acquitted a minor at an appeal hearing after he had
been sentenced to 10 years in prison with menial labour under
Islamic law in a conviction that caused a global outcry.
In August, a sharia court in the northern city of Kano
handed Omar Farouq the jail term following accusations that he
made blasphemous comments in an argument. The judges who
acquitted him on Thursday said he was 17 at the time of his
sentencing and not 13 as stated in previous hearings.
His initial conviction was condemned by rights groups, the
United Nations and the head of Poland's Auschwitz Memorial who
said he and others would volunteer to each serve a month of the
boy's prison sentence.
Nigeria is roughly evenly split between a predominantly
Muslim north and mainly Christian south. Sharia, or Islamic
religious law is applied in 12 of Nigeria's 36 states where
sharia courts operate alongside secular ones.
Two judges at the appeal section of the secular high court
in Kano on Thursday ruled that Farouq should be acquitted and
the case discharged, meaning he cannot be recharged.
They made the ruling, they said, because Farouq was a minor
who lacked proper legal representation in the sharia court.
They also ruled on the appeal lodged against the sharia
conviction of Yahaya Aminu Sharif, a man sentenced to death by
Kano's Islamic court for allegedly sharing a blasphemous message
on WhatsApp. His conviction was quashed but the judges ordered a
retrial at the sharia court.

"Their lives will never be the same again," said Kola
Alapinni, a defence lawyer representing both defendants. He said
it would not be safe for Farouq to remain in Kano and Sharif was
likely to remain in custody until his retrial was heard.
Protesters in Kano destroyed Sharif's home last year,
forcing his family to flee. Farouq's parents disassociated
themselves from him due to the shame caused by the case,
according to Alapinni, who said the boy's uncle was the only
relative to have been in regular contact with the legal team.
Despite Thursday's rulings by the state court, the cases
could be taken to the federal court of appeal if further appeals
are lodged. Lawyers for the prosecution declined to comment in
response to the rulings.
The convictions last year sparked a debate about sharia's
compatibility with Nigeria's secular constitution.
"It concerns Islamic law and not any other law," said
businessman Muhammad Salihu, arguing that secular courts should
not hear appeals against sharia convictions.

Nigerian court acquits minor on appeal following blasphemy conviction

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