A chemical engineer in northern Nigeria, recently released from a mental hospital to which he was interned after declaring himself an atheist, warns that serious death threats have come his way, making it impossible to live a normal life.
Mubarak Bala chose to be public about his atheism, a move that triggered a severe beating by his father, uncles, and older brother. During that beating, Bala says he was injected with a sedative. He woke up in a mental hospital, where doctors began to diagnose a “personality change” allegedly responsible for the pivot to atheism. Bala’s story became an international scandal when Bala began to use a smuggled phone in the mental institution to tweet about his kidnapping.
Since leaving the mental ward, Bala has gone public with the suffering going public about his atheism has brought him. He tells the Associated Press that he has lost the support of his family and most friends, and he wishes to leave Nigeria. “People are threatening me, I mean life-threatening threats. … Most of my friends condemn me and tell me I am bound for hell and that in an Islamic state, I would be killed. Blasphemy is a serious thing here,” he told the news organization.
Bala attributes much of his family’s reaction to the fact that his father, Muhammad Bala, is a local Islamic authority. According to The Guardian, the elder Bala is a “journalist and director general of Kano state’s Directorate of Societal Reorientation, one of the bodies that enforces Islamic Shariah law.” Mubarak Bala has previously stated that his father has too much to lose in allowing his son to publicly blaspheme: “[He] can’t afford to have a non-Muslim family member, so he declared me insane.”
Nigeria’s northern states are heavily Muslim, particularly in contrast to the nation’s mostly-Christian south. It is from the north that the jihadist terrorist group Boko Haram hails, and where they have caused the most disorder–most famously the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls from the town of Chibok, forcing them to become the slave wives of jihadists.
Bala’s cause has been taken up by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, a non-profit group which describes itself as “the sole global umbrella organisation embracing Humanist, atheist, rationalist, secularist, skeptic, laique, ethical cultural, freethought and similar organisations worldwide.” The group pressured the Nigerian government to intervene in the matter. It also pushed the mental hospital holding Bala against his will to justify Bala’s hospital confinement. The hospital never replied with a concrete diagnosis or answer, and Bala was freed–though freed into a world in which death threats are the norm and both friends and family condemn him.