• Monday, February 26, 2024
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Rhoda Jatau freed after 18 months in prison

Nigerian prison

…Groups say charges against her baseless

Rhoda Jatau, Christian woman and mother of five from Bauchi State, has regained her freedom after 18 months in detention for alleged public incitement.

This was after the interventions by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN); Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC), and Christian Solidarity Worldwide Nigeria.

Rhoda’s husband, Ya’u Jatau, has expressed joy over the release of his wife from prison.

It was disclosed that NIREC played a key role in her release, which further highlighted the importance of the Inter-Religious Council in such matters.

“Following the outcry from the Christian community in Nigeria over the continued detention of Rhoda Jatau in Bauchi Prison, the Christian Association of Nigeria, the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council, and Christian Solidarity Worldwide Nigeria intervened in the matter.

Read also: Deborah Samuel and the burden of leadership

“We are pleased to report that Mrs. Rhoda Jatau has been granted bail and subsequently released from detention today (Friday)”.

Jatau was detained for allegedly protesting the murder of Deborah Yakubu for alleged blasphemy offence in Sokoto State. She was arrested and incarcerated on 20 May, 2022, for forwarding a WhatsApp message that condemned the murder of Deborah Yakubu.

Recall that Deborah was mobbed to death on May 12, 2022, and set ablaze after she advised her classmates against posting religious materials on a WhatsApp group.

Jatau was faced with charges of inciting public disturbance and insulting religious creed; charges which Womanifesto, a coalition of over 500 women’s rights organisations, activists, advocates and practitioners in Nigeria, described as baseless.

“It is unconscionable that the mob that lynched Deborah Yakubu recorded the crime and circulated the video on various social media platforms, yet those involved are allowed to roam the streets of Nigeria free, while a person who condemns their action is held behind bars with no end in sight,” the coalition stated in a recent press conference in Lagos.

Concerned about the continued incarceration of Jatau, Christian women groups across Northern Nigeria also circulated a mobilisation statement on social media, expressing serious fear over the fate of Jatau, saying history may repeat itself if nothing is done to release her from being tried in a Sharia Court.

“Dear Women of ICCGIN! We were pained at Deborah’s killing. It is about to happen again. Are we going to just lament and do nothing?

“What is Rhoda’s crime? She spoke up against Deborah’s killing. They held her in custody since last May and now she is to be tried in a sharia court.

“Why? Why should a Christian be tried in the sharia court? And none of our leaders are saying anything. Does it mean that any Christian can be lynched at any time for no just cause? This is unacceptable. We have to do something about it.

“We should stand up for our sister in faith. We can do the following: Share the above in all Christian and civil society groups you belong to. Trend on all your social media platforms: #FreeRhodaJatauNOW

“Protest at Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) & PFN Offices so that they stand up to their responsibilities,” the ICCGIN women stated.

Al Jazeera news report, published on 30th November 2023, had reported extensively that Jatau was arrested a few days after forwarding a video condemning the burning to death of Deborah Yakubu, a university student in Sokoto, northwest Nigeria.

Titled, ‘Nigerian woman jailed for ‘blasphemy’ for 18 months over WhatsApp message,’ the report stated that Jatau has been in detention since May 2022 when she shared a WhatsApp video condemning mob action on another woman.

Read also: In memoriam: Deborah Samuel, family’s hope lynched for alleged blasphemy

“For sharing a message among her co-workers that criticised a mob action last May, Rhoda Ya’u Jatau has spent the last year in police detention on charges of blasphemy towards Islam.

“The healthcare administrator with the Warji Local Government in Bauchi, northeastern Nigeria was arrested a few days after forwarding the video condemning the burning to death of Deborah Yakubu, a university student in Sokoto, another state, over alleged blasphemy,” the news platform stated.

“Prosecutors allege that by sharing the video, Jatau, then 45, committed multiple offences of inciting disturbance, contempt for religious creed, and cyberstalking.

“Last Monday, a Bauchi State High Court rejected her “no-case submission.” Kola Alapinni, lead counsel at Abuja-based nonprofit Foundation for Religious Freedom who is familiar with the case, told Al Jazeera that the defence team is expected to make a case when the court sits again in December.

“If found guilty, Jatau, a mother of five and Christian, could be sentenced to a few years in prison,” he stated.