By Eric Leijenaar, BosNewsLife Senior Special Correspondent
ABUJA, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife)-- A Nigerian Christian who was serving a three-year prison sentence since May 2008 on charges of "blasphemy" against Islam has been released, BosNewsLife learned Thursday, February 26.
"His attorney could prove that 55-year-old Sani Kibili was innocent and that mistakes were made during the trial," said Netherlands-based advocacy group Open Doors which paid for his legal costs.
Open Doors told BosNewsLife in a statement that it had hired a lawyer after his family members and church were told that the “punishment could not be repealed."
The troubles reportedly began in October 2007 the Christian was almost killed after three Muslim men accused him of being an “infidel”. Kibili apparently denied the accusations, saying he was a Christian. His statement raised the anger of the men who said he was responsible for making “blasphemous” remarks about the prophet Mohammed, Open Doors said.
"Soon a riot started and only other Muslims prevented the radical Muslims of killing him," the group added. Yet, two days later Kibili was detained and after a short trial sentenced to a prison term, despite doubts about the police investigation, Open Doors said. "Reports of interrogations were wrong and the attorney even suggested that there was a complot against Kibili."
In addition the court apparently ruled according to Muslim law, or Sharia, which has been imposed in several areas of the country, Open Doors said. “Christians are officially allowed to choose the court where they want to be judged, but that option was never given to Kibili.” Amid international pressure, a court eventually released him “due to a lack of evidence,” Open Doors said.
However “he was over 300 days in prison and experienced a lot of hostility there,” it added. Open Doors said it started a campaign to encourage the Christian. Hundreds of Christians in the Netherlands send postcard to him in recent months, the group explained.
News of his release comes amid mounting tensions in Nigeria. In recent days, at least 11 people were killed in fresh inter-religious violence in the town of Bauchi. Several churches and mosques were destroyed and security forces imposed curfews in several areas of the city. Thousands of people have been displaced, Open Doors told BosNewsLife earlier, adding that it was sending teams to investigate the situation and to support victims.