(NEW YORK)–In response to harsh sentences imposed Nov. 7 on Nigerian comedians Mubarak Muhammad and Nazifi Muhammad, including public floggings, fines, and hard labor, for publishing satirical skits on TikTok, PEN America and the Amani: Africa Creative Defence Network today condemned the violence and demanded that the sentences be vacated.

The comedians were arraigned before the Kano State Magistrate on Friday, Nov. 4 and pleaded guilty to making the video skits, which were considered defamatory for their depiction of Governor Abdullahi Ganduje as corrupt. The two comedians were held in custody over the weekend and sentenced on Monday, Nov. 7.

They were not given a lawyer and did not receive a trial. The videos were reportedly made four years ago and recently resurfaced online. Under court orders, the comedians were flogged 20 lashes each, forced to pay fines of 10,000 Nigerian Naira ($22.70 USD), and ordered to sweep and wash the toilets on the court’s premises for the next 30 days. They were also ordered to film an apology to the governor and publish it on TikTok.

“We are horrified to learn of the physical violence enacted upon Mubarak Muhammad and Nazifi Muhammad. They should never have been detained or fined, let alone brutally assaulted, in retaliation for their videos. These comedians have the right to express themselves and their views freely and without fear of harm, and satire is not and should never be treated as a crime,” said Julie Trébault, director  of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America and member of the Amani: Africa Creative Defence Network. “We are monitoring the situation closely and urge the Nigerian authorities to urgently and unconditionally vacate the unjust sentences they have received.”

“Satire is a crucial element of democratic cultures and people in high public office should expect to be subjected to criticism in this lively, tongue-in-cheek manner that surely involves no real harm and thus no foul,” said Michael Schmidt, director of the Hammerl Arts Transfer (HART) and member of Amani’s steering committee, who is based in Johannesburg. “It is ludicrous to believe that powerful elected officials in democracies such as Nigeria, especially at gubernatorial level, are truly so sensitive to ephemeral and outdated social media commentary that their reputations require ‘protection’ involving the whipping and fining of young comedians – plus the imposition of community service and a public apology on them – for these satirical videos. A court that sentences accused persons without trial or legal representation is merely exercising a lynch-mob perversion of justice.”  

Nigeria’s Kano State operates under a strict interpretation of Sharia law, which frequently leads to blasphemy charges against artists for their depiction of Islamic life, such as Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, a gospel singer who received a death sentence after sharing a song on Whatsapp that was deemed insulting of the Prophet Mohammed.

PEN America helped launch the Amani: Creative Defence Network in April 2020. The network brings together the resources of fourteen organizations to provide assistance to creatives at risk in Africa and coordinate adequate support when artists and cultural professionals on the continent face danger because of their work.

The undersigned network members join with PEN America in standing in solidarity with Mubarak Muhammad and Nazifi Muhammadand and calling on the Nigerian authorities to vacate their sentences.

Africa Human Rights Network (AHRN)


Arterial Network

Culture Resource (Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy)


Hammerl Arts Rights Transfer (South Africa)

PEN International

PEN Uganda

Protection International Africa (PIA)

Safe Havens – Freedom Talks (SH|FT)

Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)

Tanzania Artists Rights Organization (TARO)

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

About the Artists at Risk Connection

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. ARC recently established a grantmaking initiative for at-risk visual artists from Ukraine and Eurasia, including an emergency fund for basic living expenses as well as a resilience grant to help artists sustain their creative practices. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057