Nigerian Mubarak Bala with his mother
Nigerian Mubarak Bala with his motherInternational Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU)

A 29-year-old Nigerian man has been locked up in an asylum for treatment in Kano State, after he declared to his family that he does not believe in God.

Mubarak Bala is being held against his will at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano, after his Muslim family took him there to treat him for 'personality change'.

The local hospital confirmed that Bala was being treated for "challenging psychological condition", and they would not keep him longer than necessary.

Kano is a Sharia state, and since 2000 it is administered under strict Islamic rules. There have been several instances in the past as well, where people have been oppressed by the conservative law-makers for their beliefs.

After a doctor, who was educated in the West, dismissed claims of psychiatric problems, Mubarak's family took him to another doctor who was more conservative and diagnosed that Bala's atheism was a side-effect of a personality change, which has to be treated.

Bala, who is a chemical engineering graduate, was able to communicate his woes from the hospital, after his mother smuggled him a phone.

Bala now fears that the conservative male members of the family may try to kill him as he has dishonored their name. His father, a politically powerful figure, has declared atheism as a mental illness and will do everything to keep Bala locked up.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has even dispatched a lawyer to take up Bala's case. IHEU spokesman Bob Churchill said the group was concerned about his "deteriorating condition" and called for his "swift release".

The blog Godlessmom, which was the first to get in touch with Bala, has updated that the youth has been brought home by the family but he still lives in fear and is being administered medicines. The family is also furious after several media publications took up his story.

The lawyer from the human rights group will file a case on behalf of Bala, calling for his freedom.

In the meantime, a petition has been started on Change, calling to Free Mubarak Bala. The petition addressed to several key Nigerian ministers and human rights authorities requires at least 1,800 more support votes. 

On Twitter many reacted to the news with shock and disbelief: