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AP: Nonbelievers across Africa risk prison time, death sentences

Muhammad Mubarak Bala, an atheist who has been detained since April 2020, is shown in a photo held by his wife, Amina Ahmed, at her home in Abuja, Nigeria, Nov. 21, 2021. Bala is an outspoken atheist in a deeply religious country; his alleged crime: Posting blasphemous statements online. (AP Photo / Sunday Alamba)

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Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu, New York-based intern on the Global Religion team, tells the story of Mubarak Bala, an outspoken atheist who is nearing two years of detention in Nigeria. His alleged crime: Posting blasphemous statements online.

The story highlights the risks of being openly faithless in African countries where religious belief pervades culture, and challenging such norms is taboo. In some countries, anti-blasphemy laws mean those accused of insulting religion face prison time and even death sentences.

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Amina Ahmed, the wife of Muhammad Mubarak Bala, an atheist who has been detained since April 2020, is shown at home in Abuja, Nigeria, Nov. 21, 2021. Bala was held incommunicado in police custody for so long — eight months — that Ahmed was sure he was dead. “I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. The emotional torture was too much for me,” she says. – AP Photo / Sunday Alamba

Published on the 600th day of Bala’s detention, the AP was the only major international news outlet calling attention to the landmark date. The story involved extensive reporting from New York and collaboration with Chinedu Asadu, AP reporter in Nigeria, to secure official comment from the attorney general whose office is prosecuting the case. Nigeria photographer Sunday Alamba delivered photos of Bala’s family.

Asiedu, originally from Ghana, brings a unique, energized perspective to his reporting, and this story was among Saturday’s top 10 on AP News. It also received play from AP’s international customers.

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