ABUJA, NIGERIA (AP) — A man was stoned to death after being accused of blasphemy in northwest Nigeria, authorities and activists said, sparking outrage on Monday from rights groups worried about what they said were growing threats to religious freedom in the region.
Usman Buda, a butcher, was killed Sunday in Sokoto state’s Gwandu district after he “allegedly blasphemed the Holy Prophet Muhammad” during an argument with another trader in a marketplace, police spokesman Ahmad Rufa’i said in a statement on Sunday night.
Local residents shared videos that appeared to be from the scene showing a large crowd that included children pelting stones at Buda on the floor as they cursed him.
Rufa’i said a police team was deployed in the area but when they arrived, “the mob escaped the scene and left the victim unconscious.” He was later declared dead at Usmanu Danfodiyo Teaching Hospital in Sokoto, Rufa’i said.
The killing was the latest attack rights campaigners have said threatens religious freedom in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim northern region. Blasphemy carries the death penalty under Islamic law in the area.
Amnesty International Nigeria’s office said the failure to ensure justice in such cases would encourage more extrajudicial killings. “The government is not taking the matter seriously and that has to change,” Isa Sanusi, acting director of Amnesty International Nigeria, said.
Sokoto Gov. Ahmed Aliyu said local residents should not take laws into their hands. But he also warned that his government would “deal decisively” against anyone found guilty of blasphemy.
“Sokoto people have so much respect and regard for Prophet Muhammad ... hence the need for all the residents to respect (and) protect his dignity and personality,” Abubakar Bawa, his spokesman, said.
Many of those accused of blasphemy never make it to court for trial. Last year, a student in Sokoto was beaten and burnt to death for alleged blasphemy while a man was killed and set ablaze for the same reason in the capital city of Abuja also in the northern region.
The police in Sokoto said it has opened an investigation into the latest incident, though arrests are rare in such cases.
“Even where arrests were made, there were serious allegations that those arrested were either later released or the whole case is jeopardized. This is very dangerous and it shows the Nigerian authorities are deliberately not willing to do the right thing to fix this dangerous situation,” Sanusi added.