Dr Piotr Cywiński, the Director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Warsaw, Poland, says he and 119 other volunteers across the world are offering to be jailed in exchange for the release of a teenager imprisoned for blasphemy in Kano State.
The museum is on the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Oświęcim, Poland. It is a research centre in memory of the 1.1 million people, including 960,000 Jews, who died there during World War II and the Holocaust. Data showed that the museum attracted around 2.9 million visitors in 2019.
In an appeal letter that he wrote to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), Cywiński, a 48-year-old historian and ecumenist, said he and the 119 others were offering to each serve a month in a Nigerian prison for Omar Farouq, whom a Sharia court in Kano State in August sentenced to 120 months in jail for blasphemy during a conversation with his friend.
Farouq’s jailing has generated concerns from many Nigerians and human rights organisations.
In his letter dated September 25, 2020, Cywiński asked Buhari to pardon Farouq as he (Farouq) could not be treated as fully aware and responsible for his utterances, given his age.
The Polish historian also offered to sponsor Farouq’s education should Buhari pardon him.
He wrote, “As the director of the Auschwitz Memorial, that commemorates the victims and preserves the remains of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp, where children were imprisoned and murdered, I cannot remain indifferent to this disgraceful sentence for humanity.
“I wish to request the pardon of this 13-year-old boy. Regardless of what he said, he cannot be treated as fully aware and responsible, given his age. He should not be subjected to the loss of the entirety of his youth, be deprived of opportunities, and stigmatised physically, emotionally, and educationally for the rest of his life. I am convinced that the authority you possess can still undo this sentence.
“However, if it turns out that the words of this child absolutely require 120 months of imprisonment, and even you are not able to change that, I suggest that in place of the child, 120 adult volunteers from all over the world, gathered by us – myself personally among them – should each serve a month in a Nigerian prison. In total, the price for the child’s transgression will be the same, and we will all avoid the worst.
“If you agree to grant clemency, or to the above proposal in lieu of punishment, I will make an attempt to provide financial help for the boy’s proper education. This way, instead of a destroyed young man, Nigeria will gain an aware and educated young citizen.”
Cywiński asked Buhari to consider his proposal “favourably”, saying, “You will undoubtedly agree with the statement that human rights begin with the rights of the child.”
“I remain hopeful that this issue will be quickly resolved according to 21st century standards,” he added.
As of Saturday, the President had yet to respond to Cywiński’s letter or Farouq’s jailing.
Meanwhile, the teenager’s sentence came some weeks after a 22-year-old singer, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, was also in Kano State sentenced to death by hanging for blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad.
An upper Sharia court in the Hausawa Filin Hockey area of the state said Sharif-Aminu was guilty of committing blasphemy for a song he circulated via WhatsApp in March.
Kano State is one of 12 northern states practising the Sharia legal system alongside the country’s secular laws.