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Omar Farouq, a 13-years-old Nigerian boy, is facing 10 years in prison. A Sharia court in Kano State in north-western Nigeria convicted him on charges of blasphemy against Allah. The boy’s case had been discovered and publicized by a lawyer defending Yahaya Sharif, a 22-year-old musician sentenced to death for circulating a “blasphemous song” on WhatsApp.

Islamic courts in the northern parts of the country operate according to both secular legal norms and the Sharia law.  The latter applies only to cases concerning Muslims. If a non-Muslim chooses to be tried under religious law, he/she must first give written consent. Since 1999, the courts have sentenced people to death on charges including extramarital sex, but only one the executions had been carried out: in 2002 a man found guilty of murdering a woman and her two children was hanged.

On September 7, the boy’s lawyer, Kola Alapinni, appealed against the court’s judgment.

Commenting on the case for CNN, UNICEF’s representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, said: - sentencing the 13-year-old Omar Farouq to 10 years of imprisonment is wrong. It negates all core underlying principles of child rights and child justice that Nigeria (and by implication, Kano State), has signed on to.

Head of Auschwitz Memorial intervenes

The director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and State Museum, Piotr Cywiński, also stood up to defend Farouq. Mr. Cywiński wrote a letter to the president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, asking him to pardon the indicted boy. –As a director of the Auschwitz Memorial that commemorates the victims and preserves the remains of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp, where children were imprisoned and murdered, I cannot remain indifferent to this disgraceful sentence to humanity- he wrote.

-Regardless of what he said, he cannot be treated as fully aware and responsible given his age –Mr. Cywiński adds. – He should not be subjected to the loss of the entirety of his youth, be deprived of opportunities, and stigmatized physically, emotionally, and educationally for the rest of his life.

Mr. Cywiński offers to serve part of the sentence

Should a presidential pardon turn out to be impossible, Mr. Cywiński offers to gather 120 adult volunteers to each serve a month in prison instead of the convicted child. At the same time, the head of Auschwitz Memorial declares to serve a month of the sentence himself.  

In his letter, Mr. Cywiński also commits himself to financially support the boy’s education. – This way, instead of a destroyed young man, Nigeria will gain an aware and educated young citizen – he argues.

The director ends with a hopeful plea: - I remain hopeful that this issue will be quickly resolved according to 21 century standards.

Mr. Cywiński’s letter was published via the Auschwitz Memorial Twitter profile. So far, it’s been shared over 7,500 times by individual users and institutions.

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