Nigerian Christians on Sunday held a national remembrance for a student who was killed in northern Sokoto state this month over allegations of blasphemy. The Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, said Sunday's protest for Deborah Yakubu was a reminder of the many threats to religious freedom in the country. Timothy Obiezu reports from Abuja.
The decision to hold a quiet march and prayer sessions for Deborah Yakubu in various parishes was announced by the Christian Association of Nigeria late Saturday. Officials also explained the planned protest had received pushback from some state authorities who restricted protests.
The association was also worried about safety after it said some Muslim groups threatened to hold a counter protest as well.
Many churches across the country, however, complied with the CAN's directive. Only a few members of some churches marched on the streets close to their parishes.
"Every local church had that program today in honor of Deborah and they prayed for the nation, prayed for the church in Nigeria,” said Bayo Oladeji, the spokesperson for the Christian Association of Nigeria. “We don't want to clash with the government. Some Muslim fundamentalists issued a statement saying they too wanted to protest today and we don't want a situation whereby they'll be targeting our people and attacking them
Deborah Yakubu was a student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto state. She was beaten, stoned and her body burned May 12 by students who accused her of making blasphemous comments against the Prophet Mohammed in an online classroom group.
Yakubu had allegedly cautioned her Muslim counterparts to stop making religious posts on the WhatsApp group chat.
Nigerian authorities, including President Mohammadu Buhari, a Muslim, condemned the student's killing.
Oladeji says Nigerian Christians are often targeted and attacked on the basis of religion.
"We believe that the church in Nigeria is under a siege; we believe that the church in Nigeria is being persecuted, those who were purportedly arrested because of Deborah's gruesome murder, they were merely arraigned for causing public disturbance,” Oladeji said. “It's not that they're arraigning them for the murder of this young girl."
Last week, two suspects arrested in Yakubu's death were arraigned in court.
Sokoto state authorities Friday lifted a curfew imposed last week after protests broke out in the state, calling for the release of the two suspects.
Blasphemy is punishable under Nigeria's secular law and well as Islamic law, known as Sharia. Human rights groups have launched a petition demanding authorities expunge blasphemy from the constitution.
Human rights lawyer Martin Obono started the petition.
"We need to get to the point where Nigeria needs to decide whether we're a secular state or we're a religious state because you do not now declare under Section 10 of the constitution that people have the rights and freedom of thoughts and religion,” Obono said. “If I express my thoughts about a particular religion, I shouldn't be criminalized for that.”
Last November, the United States removed Nigeria from its list of countries of particular concern over religious freedom violations.