Auschwitz Museum Director Asks President of Nigeria to Pardon 13-Year-Old Boy Jailed for 'Blasphemy'

The director of Poland's Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum asked the president of Nigeria to pardon a 13-year-old boy sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment for blasphemy.

In a letter to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday, museum director Piotr Cywiński said that he can't stay silent after the conviction and sentencing of 13-year-old Omar Farouq's for offensive words said during an argument with a friend.

"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," Cywiński wrote.

He added: "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 stigmatized physically, emotionally, and educationally for the rest of his life."

The boy was convicted in a Sharia court in Kano State in northwest Nigeria after being accused of using foul language towards Allah. The same court sentenced Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, a studio assistant, to death for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammed on August 10.

Muhammadu Buhari
President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari addresses the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters on September 24, 2019 in New York City. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/Getty

Earlier this month, children's rights agency UNICEF also condemned the sentencing of the teenager. Farouq's counsel, who also represented Sharif-Aminu, said that the conviction is "incompatible with S.10, 38 and 39 of the Nigerian Constitution."

"Omar Farouq's case is especially pitiable being a minor in the eyes of the Law," Kola Alapini, Farouq's counsel, told Newsweek in an email. "We filed this appeal in Kano State on behalf of the Foundation for Religious Freedom when we stumbled on Omar Farouq's case whilst working on that of Yahaya Sharif-Aminu's case.

"We would be arguing that their convictions are unconstitutional, null and void and a gross violation of Nigerian Laws. Blasphemy is not an offence under Nigerian Law and the Sharia legal system is incompatible with Nigerian Law."

Cywiński, who has served as the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum's director since 2006, tweeted his letter on Friday through the Auschwitz Memorial Twitter account with the caption: "The director of @AuschwitzMuseum wrote the President of Nigeria and asked him to pardon 13-year old Omar Farouq sentenced for 10 years imprisonment. He declares he is ready to share part of the sentence."

"We welcome the letter from Director of the Auschwitz Memorial and we hope to see more of such support from the international community," said Alapini, who retweeted Cywiński's post. "These are dark times for human rights in Nigeria, we need the support of everyone from all over the world, right now."

In addition to condemning Farouq's sentence, Cywiński offered to take the place of the 13-year-old in prison, along with 120 other adult volunteers.

"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," wrote the director.

He also offered to personally fund Farouq's education if he is pardoned, resulting in "an aware and educated young citizen" rather than a "destroyed young man."

Newsweek reached out to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Auschwitz Museum Director Asks President of Nigeria to Pardon 13-Year-Old Boy Jailed for 'Blasphemy' | News