A Nigerian man has been incarcerated in a mental health institution by his family after saying he had lost his belief in God.

Mubarak Bala, 29, is said to have been forcibly medicated for “insanity” for nearly two weeks, despite a doctor’s opinion that he has no psychological problems.

Campaigners calling for his release say the case highlights the persecution of atheists in many African countries.

Mr. Bala’s Twitter account uses the handle “ExMuslim”, and his profile says: “Chemical Process Engineer. I stand for Truth&Justice. Religion insults human conscience &reason, duped me that I hav another lifetime. AgnosticAtheist.”

He lives in Kano in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north. The state adopted sharia law in 2000 and has a strict Islamic police force called the Hisbah.

When Mr. Bala told his family that he had renounced Islam, they took him to a doctor and asked if he was mentally ill, according to the International Humanist and Ethical Union, which has taken up the case. The doctor gave him a clean bill of health, but the family turned to a second doctor, who said his atheism was a side-effect of a personality change.

Mr. Bala was admitted to the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital on 13 June and has since been held there against his will. He has pleaded for help in emails and tweets from phones smuggled in. In one email, he said: “And the biggest evidence of my mental illness was large blasphemies and denial of ‘history’ of Adam, and apostasy, to which the doctor said was a personality change, that everyone needs a God, that even in Japan they have a God. And my brother added that all the atheists I see have had mental illness at some point in their life.” In one tweet, he wrote: “My neck still hurts, from the strangle-hold of my father, and the beat of uncles dislocated my finger and arm, I then got sedated by me bro.”

But Mr. Bala’s father tells a different story, according to lawyer Muhammad Bello Shehu. “The father was aware that he had stopping praying and going to mosques for a year now. But when he started tweeting about it and going public, that might have endangered his life and his family. So according to the father, the major reason he took him to the hospital was for his own safety... he could have been lynched for making such announcements.” Bamidele Adeneye, secretary of the Lagos Humanists, said: “I fear for his life. Somebody might go to the hospital to attack him. We are trying to get him out.”

The IHEU has expressed concern over Mr. Bala’s “deteriorating condition” after reports that he is weak. Spokesman Bob Churchill said: “It appears that a warped notion of family honour is the motivation for pressuring Mubarak in this appalling manner... We are joining humanists and human rights advocates in Nigeria and the activists who have worked to highlight this case, in 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.”

© Guardian News & Media 2014

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