Shuddhashar is deeply alarmed by the arrest of Mubarak Bala, a well-known humanist, who serves as the president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria. Persecution of the non-religious is nothing new; its history can be traced to the age of antiquity when belief in a creator of the world buttressed the legitimacy of the state. Anyone who was found to lack belief in the former was perceived to be subversive to the latter. The philosophical texts of Cārvāka, an Indian materialist school, were systematically censored and later destroyed. Under the decree of Diopeithes, the pre-Socratic Greek Philosopher Anaxagoras was forced into exile. Humanity, since then, has progressed by leaps and bounds. Freedom of belief and freedom of speech are today considered as cornerstones of the liberal world order.
Freedom of belief also includes the freedom not to believe. Freedom of expression also means the freedom to challenge any belief system; no matter how sacrosanct it may be to some. Many modern nation-states, however, wilfully impede their citizens from exercising these rights. Like the ancient kingdoms, modern states, especially those that are run in an authoritarian fashion, penalise those who challenge the status-quo, who scrutinise ideas and beliefs that are congenial to the regime. In recent years, persecution of the non-religious has taken a turn for the worse. In many parts of the globe, governments have enacted new blasphemy and apostasy laws, and under cover of these laws, they systemically target their non-religious constituents. At the same time, many governments have failed to protect humanists who are targeted by religious militants. Moreover, sexual minorities and minority religious sects also regularly fall victim because of their supposed unorthodox beliefs and practices.
Since ideas and beliefs have neither rights nor feelings, they are not entitled to the protection that humans and other sentient beings have a right to access. In the grand scheme of things, ideas will always occupy the defendant’s position; they can neither be the plaintiff nor the jury. It is because ideas always need to justify their existence, people don’t. Mubarak Bala’s human dignity is sacrosanct — not the religious beliefs he challenged or the penal code he transgressed. Mubarak Bala has been accused of a crime that doesn’t have a victim. By arresting him for a crime he didn’t commit, the Nigerian government has infringed upon Mubarak Bala’s human dignity. We urge the Nigerian government to immediately release Mubarak Bala from his inhumane incarceration, drop all the charges brought against him, and repeal the existent blasphemy laws that are odds with human dignity and the inviolable rights of belief and expression.
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