#FreeMubarakBala trends on Twitter after arrest of atheist who compared TB Joshua with Prophet Mohammed on Facebook

While states across Nigeria and the world are putting all hands on deck to wage war against COVID-19 pandemic, some religious fanatics in Kano State have a lot of time on their hands to engage in religious warfare.

Kano State has been ravaged by a strange death that has killed hundreds of people in the state in the last two weeks and government and health workers are still battling to unravel the cause of the mysterious deaths which claimed 13 prominent people in the state at the weekend.

Many Nigerians woke on Wednesday morning to find #FreeMubarakBala trending on Twitter Nigeria. The hashtag which is gradually rising to the top of Twitter trends in Nigeria was spurred by the arrest of President of Humanist Association of Nigeria, Mubarak Bala, over his social media post comparing Prophet Muhammed to the Senior Pastor of Synagogue Church of All Nations, Prophet Temitope Joshua.

Mubarak Bala's arrest was prompted by a petition by a group of Muslim lawyers sent to the Kano State Police Commissioner demanding the arrest of Bala for "blasphemy".

The petitioner claimed Bala, on Saturday April 25, wrote on his Facebook page: "There is no difference between Prophet TB Joshua of Lagos and Prophet Muhammed of Saudi Arabia, our own from Nigeria is even better in that he was not a terrorist."

The petition signed by S.S Umar claimed Bala, an indigene of Kano State based in Kaduna characterized "Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as a terrorist, pedophile among other statements that will incite Muslims and provoke them to take laws into their hands which may ultimately result into public disturbance and breach of the peace"

The petitioner claimed Bala's post contravenes Section 210 of the Penal code of Kano State and Section 26 (1) (c) of the cybercrime Act.

According to members of the Humanist Association of Nigeria and other Nigerians leading the internet protest against the arrest of Bala, the police acted on the petition and arrested Bala in Kaduna on Tuesday and are planning to send him to Kano where he will be facing trial.

But his friends said they are not against his trial, but fear for his life as he may not make it to Kano. They said he may likely be killed on the way.

"They can just kill him on the road and say they were ambushed by angry mob," one of his friends who craved anonymity told Neusroom.

Their fear was justified by the flurry of death threats against Bala from many social media users on Twitter and Facebook.

One Mubarak Ismail wrote on Facebook "I know Mubarak more than you, I know him since he was a teenager, we were at the same street in Kano. Insha Allah before you succeed in transferring the case to Abuja, he will have been beheaded cos he propagates against Islam."

One Kawu Garba wrote on Twitter: "You are a fool saying the arrest of Mubarak is uncalled for. Blaspheme against our Prophet is capital offense and if he's allowed free without penalty we will kill him. Quote me anywhere."

When his tweet attracted criticisms, Garba shared his picture to reiterate his threat that he will kill Bala if he is released by the police.

This is not the first time Mubarak Bala will be sailing in troubled waters, in 2014 when he announced his Islam apostasy, he incurred the wrath of family members and friends who concluded that he was mentally ill.

A source in the Humanist Association of Nigeria told Neusroom that Bala has continued to receive several death threats since he identified as an atheist in 2014.

The source said, in 2014, his family put him in a mental hospital when he renounced Islam and declared himself an atheist.

"In 2014, it took the intervention of international organisations before Bala was released from the mental health facility his family put him after renouncing Islam," the source said.

"Why we are worried is that they will not take him to Kano before killing him and that is why we are demanding that he should be tried in Kaduna or transferred to Abuja where we believe he will get fair hearing. We don't even know the police station he is being detained in Kaduna, and they are claiming they want to send him to Kano where he will be executed."

Neusroom also sighted a message sent to members of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, by Leo Igwe, the Chairman of the association's board saying the Police Public Relations Officer in Kaduna told him that Mubarak's case was not their case that detectives were sent from Kano to arrest him.

"I pressed to know if Mubarak will be transferred to Abuja, he said no, he will be transferred to Kano where the complaint was lodged," Igwe said

Kano State has a history of religious violence and execution of alleged blasphemers before their trial in a court. In 2016, 74-year-old Bridget Agbaheme was lynched in a market in Kano for blasphemy, two decades before then, Gideon Akaluka was snatched from Dogon Dotes Prison in Kano in 1994 and beheaded by Muslim fanatics for the same reason – 'blasphemy'.

Over the years there has been a series of violence in the northern city spurred by religious differences and alleged blasphemous comments leading to the burning of churches and killing of many Christians.

The Police Spokespersons in Kaduna and Kano States, Mohammed Jalige and Haruna Abdullahi did not pick calls from Neusroom correspondent and are yet to reply text messages sent to them as at the time of filing this report.

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