Christian healthcare worker Rhoda Jatau from Bauchi state in northern Nigeria has lost her legal bid to have the blasphemy case against her dismissed.
Her lawyers had hoped that the charges would be dismissed at a hearing on 27 November, leading to her release from prison, but the High Court in Bauchi rejected the “no-case submission” request that the defence had submitted at a hearing on 8 October.
The court ruled in favour of the prosecution that Rhoda has a case to answer and her legal team must now present the case for the defence.
Rhoda has been in custody since May 2022, when she was arrested after allegedly forwarding a blasphemous video clip to a closed WhatsApp group for staff at the Primary Healthcare Board where she worked. The video clip condemned the lynching of Christian student Deborah Emmanuel in Sokoto state a week earlier.
Rhoda was charged with inciting public disturbance, exciting the contempt of a religious creed (the civil equivalent of blasphemy under Sharia law) and cyberstalking.
She has been denied bail and while the prosecution has closed its case the defence has been thwarted by repeated adjournments and postponement of hearings, which human rights activists say are delaying tactics to deny justice and keep Rhoda in custody.
Since her arrest she has only seen members of her family at court hearings and her husband Ya’u Adamu has been caring for their five children alone.
The Daily Express quoted Caroline Duffield of Open Doors, who commented: “This is a bitter blow. Rhoda Jatau has been imprisoned without trial for 18 months now. Her only crime was to tell friends on social media that she condemned a shocking act of mob violence that killed an innocent woman. It confirms yet again that in this region of Nigeria, violence and persecution against Christians is happening with impunity. It is astonishing that the only person in jail over the murder of Deborah Samuel Yakubu is the person who protested it.
“Rhoda Jatau legitimately exercised her right of freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief in a peaceful manner. To be prosecuted for sharing content condemning a senseless murder is astonishing. No action is being taken against those involved in the mob violence that took the life of Deborah Samuel Yakubu, in spite of footage being filmed by the attackers on their phones and shared.
“The way the mob violence against both Deborah Yakubu and Rhoda Jatau is handled clearly shows a concerning culture of impunity against perpetrators in parts of Nigeria.”
Sharia law in northern Nigeria
Despite Nigeria’s constitution guaranteeing freedom of conscience and religious expression, twelve northern states, including Bauchi, incorporated Sharia law into their criminal codes in 1999. This means that in these states high courts as well as Sharia courts can try defendants under Sharia law.
Under northern Nigeria’s Sharia law blasphemy is a capital offense carrying the death penalty on conviction.
(Christian Solidarity International, Daily Express, Open Doors)
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