Nigerian Awarded For Help Overturning Death Sentence

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A University of Essex graduate who helped overturn a singer’s death sentence has been given an award.

Kola Alapinni said he defied the threat of mob violence when he provided pro bono legal defence in a number of blasphemy cases in Kano, Nigeria.

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His counsel helped singer Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, who was sentenced to death in 2020, to avoid the penalty.

“The work we do can spell the difference between life and death,” Mr Alapinni said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken granted the lawyer an International Religious Award for taking on a number of high-profile cases.

‘Dogged and relentless fight’

Mr Alapinni, who studied LLM International Human Rights Law at the University of Essex in 2006, had also overturned a “lengthy” prison sentence for a 13-year-old boy.

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“Receiving the award is a culmination and validation of a dogged and relentless fight which commenced four years ago,” he said.

The case of Sharif-Aminu has reached Nigeria’s Supreme Court and Mr Alapinni said he was working to free him entirely.

Pro bono work in Kano has ensured its poorest people, who have been found to have breached the Sharia penal code, have access to legal aid they would otherwise be unable to afford.

Albert Sloman Library and Silberrad Student Centre University of Essex, Colchester,
Mr Alapinni studied LLM International Human Rights Law at the University of Essex in 2006
Mr Alapinni said there was a “constant fear of reprisal attacks from mobs” when it came to representing defendants in Nigeria.

“Representing individuals appealing sentences delivered under the Sharia penal code is a calling and it isn’t made for every lawyer,” he added.

“We have had an instance in 2015 where a mob had gone ahead to burn down a police station and a court room during a trial of alleged blasphemers.

“Nigeria is going through a very critical time.

“Our country is facing a battle for its soul and one of the fundamental ways to restore the rule of law and order is to ensure and guarantee our religious freedom, as clearly spelt out and enshrined in our constitution”.

The BBC.

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