(CNN)An intense argument recorded and posted in a WhatsApp group has led to a death penalty sentence and a family torn apart over allegations of insulting Prophet Mohammed, according to lawyers for the defendant.
Music studio assistant Yahaya Sharif-Aminu was sentenced to death by hanging on August 10 after being convicted of blasphemy by an Islamic court in northern Nigeria.
The judgment document states that Sharif-Aminu, 22, was convicted for making “a blasphemous statement against Prophet Mohammed in a WhatsApp Group,” which is contrary to the Kano State Sharia Penal Code and is an offence which carries the death sentence.
The recording was shared widely, causing mass outrage in the highly conservative, majority Muslim, state, according to various reports.
“Whoever insults, defames or utters words or acts which are capable of bringing into disrespect … such a person has committed a serious crime which is punishable by death,” according to a translation of court documents provided to CNN by his lawyers.
Sharif-Aminu, described by his friend Kabiru Ibrahim, as “kind, religious and dutiful,” admitted charges of blasphemy during his trial, but said he had made a mistake.
No legal representation
Under Sharia law, a voluntary confession is binding, according to court papers.
Sharif-Aminu’s lawyers, who became involved in the case only after his conviction, say he was not allowed legal representation before or during his trial — in contravention of Nigerian citizens’ constitutional right to legal representation.
Outrage as Nigeria sentences 13-year-old boy to 10 years in prison for blasphemy Outrage as Nigeria sentences 13-year-old boy to 10 years in prison for blasphemy
According to the lawyers, the Sharia court adjourned his case four times because no lawyer came forth from the Legal Aid Council to represent him, likely because of the sensitivity of the case. The Sharia court is, however, statute-bound to provide legal representation.
Advocates from the Foundation for Religious Freedom (FRF), a not-for-profit aimed at protecting religious freedom in Nigeria, which is representing Sharif-Aminu, told CNN he has also not been permitted access to legal advice to prepare an appeal against his conviction.
The FRF says it has lodged an appeal on his behalf in Kano’s high court, a common-law court with constitutional powers.
“The state laws he is accused of breaking are in gross conflict with the Nigerian constitution,” said his counsel, Kola Alapinni.
Kano’s State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje told clerics in Kano that he would sign Sharif-Aminu’s death warrant as soon as the singer had exhausted the appeals process, local media reports say.
“I assure you that immediately the Supreme Court affirms the judgment, I will sign it without any hesitation,” Ganduje said, according to Nigeria’s Daily Post newspaper. CNN contacted a spokesman for Governor Ganduje several times for comment but did not receive a response.
Islamic scholar and cleric Bashir Aliyu Umar, who is not connected to the case, but said he had read the transcript of the court proceedings, told CNN, “No Muslim will condone it. People hold Prophet Mohammed higher than their parents, and when things like this happen, it will lead to a breakdown of peace because of mob action and attacks against the accused.”
When news of Sharif-Aminu’s alleged crime broke earlier this year, protesters marched to his family home and destroyed it, prompting his father to flee to a neighboring town, his lawyers told CNN. Sharif-Aminu went into hiding, according to Amnesty and his lawyers, but in March he was arrested by the Hisbah Corps, the religious police force that enforces Sharia law in Kano state.