UN expresses concern over lynching of Christian student in Nigeria

College student Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu was stoned to death in Sokoto, Nigeria on May 12, 2022.(Photo: Morning Star News)

The United Nations has written to the Nigerian government about its concern over the killing of a Christian student last year. 

Deborah Emmanuel was publicly lynched by a mob of Islamist extremists at her school in Sokoto State on 12 May 2022. The attack happened after she was accused of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad. 

A Letter of Allegation was sent by the UN to the Nigerian government regarding Ms Emmanuel's death in August and was published this week after it failed to respond within the 60-day deadline. 

The letter expresses "utter concern" about her death, the apparent negligence of the police prosecution, and the lack of accountability for the perpetrators of her murder.

It then condemns the arrest and detention of Rhoda Jatau in Bauchi State after she reportedly shared a video on WhatsApp condemning Ms Emmanuel's murder.

Mrs Jatau is still behind bars "for what appears to be her mere peaceful exercise of her right to freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief", the letter states.

"More broadly, we express concern over the criminalization of blasphemy in Nigeria contrary to international human rights law and standards and the rising episodes of violence relating to accusations of blasphemy targeting religious minorities in Nigeria by mob attacks and killings," it said.

The letter has been signed by Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Nazila Ghanea; Vice-Chair on communications of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Matthew Gillett; Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Morris Tidball-Binz; Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Irene Khan; and Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes.

They repeated previous calls to repeal the country's blasphemy laws, saying that they have been "repeatedly shown to violate freedom of religion and belief" and "have a stifling effect on open dialogue and public discourse".

The letter concludes by requesting the Nigerian government to confirm the current status of investigations into the murder of Ms Emmanuel and "the factual grounds which led to this public lynching", as well as "the factual and legal grounds for the arrest and detention" of Mrs Jatau and how these are compatible with Nigeria's international human rights obligations.

The letter and its assertions about police negligence and lack of accountability have been welcomed by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

The organisation's UN Officer Claire Denman said, "We commend their robust questioning of the government of Nigeria on the circumstances surrounding Deborah Emmanuel's brutal death and the unjust detention of Mrs Jatau for peacefully exercising her fundamental rights.

"We continue to extend our deepest condolences to Ms Emmanuel's family, and to urge both state and federal authorities to prioritise the arrest and prosecution of Ms Emmanuel's murderers, to release Mrs Jatau unconditionally, and to end the impunity currently enjoyed by those who weaponise religion to justify the taking of innocent lives.

"The repeal of the blasphemy provision also remains essential. It is incompatible with the country's constitutional and international obligations, and is a driver of religious extremism and violence, which in turn critically undermines social cohesion."