Reporters sans Frontières (Paris), Nov. 26, 2002
Reporters Without Borders said it was extremely alarmed at today’s proclamation of a fatwa (religious edict) calling on Muslims to kill a journalist who wrote an article considered insulting to the Prophet Mohammed.
The organisation appealed to Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and other officials to take urgent steps to protect the journalist, Ms. Isioma Daniel, who wrote in the Lagos-based newspaper This Day that if Mohammed had seen the contestants in the Miss World beauty contest set to take place in Nigeria, he “would probably have chosen a wife from among them.”
“Even if one agrees that printing this article was ill-advised in the very tense situation in Nigeria, it is unacceptable that people can with complete impunity call for the author to be murdered,” said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard.
“There are laws in Nigeria and if the government wants to, it can prosecute Isioma Daniel. But under no circumstances must it allow religious fundamentalists to put her life in danger,” Ménard said, asking the president to see that Zamfara state governor Alhaji Ahmed Sani Yerima took action to get the fatwa cancelled.
The government of the majority-Muslim northern state of Zamfara announced today the fatwa had been issued in response to Daniel’s 16 November article, which set off rioting in which about 200 people were killed, despite several published apologies by the paper to the country’s Muslims and the resignation of the journalist.
A spokesman for the state government, Umar Dangaladima, said it had not issued the fatwa but did support it. The decree was reportedly issued after a meeting between the state government and about 20 Islamic organisations. The spokesman said in a speech broadcast by a local radio station that it was obligatory for all Muslims, wherever they were, to consider the killing of the journalist a religious duty.
A busload of several hundred Muslims went to This Day’s offices in Kaduna on 20 November and burned them down. Two days later, the paper’s editor, Simon Kolawole, was arrested in Abuja by agents of the federal State Security Services.
Religious organisations have protested strongly against the article and the Supreme Council for Sharia Implementation said that since the paper had “declared total war on Islam,” Muslims should “declare the same on the paper.” As a result of the rioting, the Miss World contest, which had been set for 7 December, was cancelled for security reasons and moved to London.