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Rhoda Ya’u Jatau, a Christian nurse from northern Nigeria, was detained on blasphemy charges, according to Joel Veldkamp, head of international communications at persecution watchdog Christian Solidarity International (CSI).
“She’s in prison for for blasphemy,” Veldkamp said, noting she was arrested after sharing video of a Muslim man speaking out against the stoning of a Christian woman named Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu.
As Faithwire previously reported, Yakubu, a 25-year-old Christian college student, was stoned by Muslims after claims she, too, was accused of blasphemy.
“[Deborah’s story] was big news in Nigeria and lots of people were sharing their opinions about it and … a Muslim person in Ghana, a neighboring country, made a video saying, ‘This murder was terrible,'” Veldkamp explained. “Deborah should never have been murdered and this Nigerian Christian woman named “Rhoda shared that video, and then she herself was accused of blasphemy for sharing the video saying that Deborah should not have been murdered.”
Blasphemy charges could end up stemming from any accusation, Veldkamp said.
“The terrifying thing is that it could be almost anything,” he said. “According to the law, if you insult another person’s religion or if you insult one of the major religions of Nigeria, you can be held criminally liable for that. But what does that actually mean to insult a religion?”
Veldkamp noted this vague weapon is often used against Nigerian Christians or Muslims who won’t endorse radical ideology. And once someone is in such diabolical legal crosshairs, it’s tough to escape.
Rhoda has been imprisoned for six months now. At first, her husband, Ya’u Adamu, remained quiet about her detention, hoping she would be released. But he is now speaking out, enlisting CSI to help get the word out and assist his family.
Now raising the family on his own, Ya’u has been forced to sell all of his belongings to finance his wife’s festering legal battle. The situation has been quite difficult.
“They’re a Christian family in the Muslim-majority area of the country and the threat when someone is accused of blasphemy — a giant target gets put on their head, and the threat is not only from the police,” Veldkamp said. “The threat is also from extremists or people in the area who might want to take matters into their own hands.”
Right now, Rhoda is allegedly trapped in a legal quagmire, with an “endless string of failed court hearings” and with no one willing to take responsibility for her continued imprisonment.
“This is a case that no one really wants to find her innocent of because that’s dangerous,” he said. “It’s dangerous to find a Christian innocent of the crime of insulting Islam.”
Veldkamp said riots could unfold in such a situation and noted there were already violent measures taken when Rhoda was first arrested, as people reportedly sought to harm or kill her.
“Most of the Christian neighborhood in her city was burned down by people who were trying to kill her,” he said. “So, the arrest was kind of a way to stop the riot from continuing, to calm the rioters down.”
Veldkamp said there’s no telling what might happen if Rhoda were to be released, as the family is currently contending with the dangers that could also come from speaking out so openly.
“It’s the terror of knowing that target is on your family’s back and a target is potentially on the back of all the Christians in your city,” he said. “This has been a very well-placed signal to the Christians of the city not to step out of line, not to protest when other Christians are murdered, to stay in their place, and to not speak out for themselves and I think it’s been very effective, unfortunately.”
CSI is currently providing support for the family to cover basic needs and to help fill the income gap created by Rhoda’s detainment.
Veldkamp also said his organization is “trying to get the word out about this case” and about the broader issues Christians face in Nigeria.
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