Wole Soyinka, who was held as a political prisoner in Nigeria in the 1960s, has written a letter of solidarity to the detained Nigerian humanist Mubarak Bala on his 100th day in detention.
Bala, the president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was arrested on 28 April at his home in Kaduna state, and taken to neighbouring Kano state. He is accused of posting comments that were critical of Islam on Facebook, and has been charged under state law with violating a religious offence law and with cybercrime. He has not been heard from since the day of his arrest. His wife Amina Mubarak, with whom he has a newborn son, told the Guardian in July: “At this point, I’m not even begging for his release, I just want his proof of life.”
Soyinka, who was held as a political prisoner in Nigeria for 22 months in the late 1960s, smuggling his poems out of prison on toilet paper, told Bala that he imagined him “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,” writes Soyinka in the letter, which is published by Humanists International.
“I write today to tell you that you are not alone, there is a whole community across the globe that stands beside you and will fight for you. We will not rest until you are free and safe.”
Bala is the son of a widely regarded Islamic scholar. He renounced Islam in 2014, and his family in Kano forcibly committed him to a psychiatric facility for 18 days before he was discharged. He has been an outspoken critic of religion in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north, where open religious dissent is uncommon.
Soyinka, who won the Nobel prize in literature in 1986, said that Bala had stood firm in his convictions: “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. You have not sought to appease those that treasure scrolls. You have not bowed to pressure to revere their unseen deities.”
A group of UN human rights experts have called on Nigeria to release Bala, saying that his arrest and detention “amounts to persecution of non-believers in Nigeria”. Humanists International has led a campaign for his release.
“Mubarak Bala has been detained for long enough,” said Humanists International president Andrew Copson. “For 100 days, our colleague and friend has been held captive, without charge or access to his lawyer, in what can only be perceived at this point as a flagrant violation of his human rights. Our calls remain unchanged, release him immediately and unconditionally.”