Music is not a crime – UN push for release of singer sentenced to death

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The Independent United Nations (UN) Human Rights experts have reacted to the death sentence of Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, a singer who was recently sentenced to death for blasphemy in Kano.

The UN experts in a statement released by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Right on Monday, September 28, called for the death sentence to be overturned.

Sharif-Aminu was on August 10, 2020 sentenced to death by hanging for blasphemy by an Upper Shari’a Court.

He was accused of making blasphemous and degrading remarks against Prophet Muhammad in a song he shared on WhatsApp, an act considered to have been done with the intention to hurt the feelings of Muslim faithful.

The experts stated, “Artistic expression of opinion and beliefs, through songs or other media – including those seen to offend religious sensibilities – is protected in accordance with international law.

“The criminalisation of these expressions is unlawful. Music is not a crime.”

UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, argued that the application of the death penalty for artistic expression through song is a flagrant violation of international human rights law, as well as of Nigeria’s constitution.

In the initial days of his alleged blasphemy, a mob burned down Sharif-Aminu’s family home with numerous death threats issued against him by local religious fanatics in his Kano community.

The UN experts expressed worry about the death threats, and called on the Nigerian government to take effective measures to protect him in detention and after release.

The experts that signed the statement are Bennoune; Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed; Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard; Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression, Irene Khan; and Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego García-Sayán.

Others are members of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention including Chair-Rapporteur, Leigh Toomey; Vice-Chair, Elina Steinerte; José Guevara Bermúdez, Seong-Phil Hong, and Sètondji Adjovi.

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