By Open Doors 21 November 2023 2 MIN

Nigeria | Christian Mother Faces Imprisonment

A Nigerian Christian mother-of-five, who has been detained for more than a year without trial, faces up to three years imprisonment. Please join us in praying for justice for Rhoda in the days leading up to her hearing on 27 November.

Rhoda Jatau, a health worker from northern Bauchi State, Nigeria, was arrested on 20 May 2022 after she reportedly forwarded a “blasphemous” WhatsApp message to colleagues. In the message, she condemned the killing of Christian student, Deborah Samuel, who was stoned and burned to death for alleged blasphemy by a mob one week earlier.

Jatau was arrested and taken from her home in Katanga, Warji Local Government Area, before a mob gathered to attack her. When the attackers could not find her, they targeted other Christians in the neighbourhood, injuring at least ten people and damaging properties. Jatau’s family was forced to flee their home and now live elsewhere.

In December 2022, she was charged with “intention to disturb the public peace by forwarding a video considered blasphemy of the Prophet Muhammad.” The charges carry a sentence of up to three years in prison and/or a fine.

Her case is scheduled to be heard on 27 November. At the time of her hearing, she will have been detained for 1.5 years. During this time, several requests for bail were denied because of the possible risk of riots, according to her lawyer, Joshua Nasara, in a press statement, quoted by Morningstar News.

‘Culture of Impunity’

“Rhoda Jatau legitimately exercised her right of freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief in a peaceful manner,” said John Samuel, Open Doors legal expert for Sub-Saharan Africa. “And it is unacceptable that she is being prosecuted for merely sharing content that condemns the violence against Deborah while no action is being taken against those involved in the mob violence following the disclosure of her alleged blasphemous WhatsApp message. Nor has action been taken against those involved in the mob violence that took the life of Deborah.”

Christians, who are a minority in northern Nigeria, face ongoing discrimination and high levels of pressure for their faith, including casual accusations of blasphemy and insulting Islam. According to World Watch List research, Nigeria is the most violent place to follow Jesus and ranks #6 for overall persecution.

“The way the mob violence against both Deborah and Jatau is handled clearly shows the concerning culture of impunity against perpetrators of violence in parts of Nigeria,” said Samuel. “The legal criminalisation of blasphemy, which is against the Nigerian constitution and international human rights standards, has contributed to the increase of mob violence.”

Growing International Concern Regarding Blasphemy Laws

Blasphemy laws are in place across Nigeria. While blasphemy in the southern part of Nigeria is punishable with imprisonment, in the 12 northern states that are governed by Sharia law, it can carry the death sentence.

Both the European Union and the United Nations have repeatedly raised concerns and called on the Nigerian government to repeal the laws.

Pray for Nigeria

  • That Rhoda and her family experience the unexplainable peace of Christ in the lead-up and throughout the hearing.
  • That the decision-makers will act justly and pardon Rhoda.
  • That God will transform the hearts of the Nigerian government to ease their strict and punitive blasphemy laws.

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