Nigerian Atheist Held in Psychiatric Ward

Mubarak Bala from his bed in Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital. Photo via IHEU.

On June 13th Mubarak Bala, a 29-year-old man living in northern Nigeria, was beaten by his father and three uncles and then sedated, only to wake up over a day later in a psychiatric ward where he is being drugged and held against his will, all because he declared himself an atheist.

As human rights activist and humanist Leo Igwe recently pointed out, northern Nigeria is a heavily Islamic state, and is governed by Sharia law. There is a strong stigma against being anything but a Muslim, especially an atheist. After hearing of his atheism, Mubarak’s family brought him to a doctor to see if he had a mental illness. After that doctor gave him a clean bill of health, they brought him to another doctor, who said that his conversion to atheism signaled a personality change. They then forcibly admitted Mubarak to a mental institution. Allegedly, the only way Bala, who is a chemical engineer, was able to alert activists of his situation was through tweets from a stolen phone from within the hospital.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), along with Mr. Bala himself, think that this was all done in an attempt to protect the family’s honor. Mubarak has described his father as an Islamic leader who “can’t afford to have a non-Muslim family member.” In fact, after he was committed to the hospital Mubarak’s family posted a Shahada, a Muslim declaration of faith, on to his Facebook page in an attempt to regain their honor.

Because Mubarak’s Twitter feed was essentially the only primary source of information for a while, this story was initially difficult to verify. However, the International Humanist and Ethical Union sent a lawyer to take up Mubarak’s case and have confirmed the story as true.

Bob Churchill, spokesman for the IHEU, said that they are “calling for an immediate re-evaluation of Mubarak’s case by a doctor who is entirely independent of the family, and for his swift release. We stress that holding naturalistic or atheistic views is a normal and reasonable position, that no one should be detained as a psychiatric patient for holding such beliefs.”

Readers who want to do something to help free Mubarak and stand up for the rights of atheists, humanists, and freethinkers worldwide can sign this petition, which has over 2,700 signatures as of this writing, and share this article on social media to raise awareness.

This story is a chilling reminder of the brutal stigmas that exist against non-believers in many theocratic countries. Luckily, in this case, there is still time to save Mubarak Bala’s life.

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