A Nigerian man has been committed to a mental institute after declaring that he did not believe in God, according to the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU).

Mubarak Bala, a 29 year old chemical engineering graduate, lives in Kano state, a mainly Muslim area that adopted Sharia law in 2000.

Reportedly, when he told relatives he did not believe in God, they asked a doctor if he was mentally ill. Despite an all-clear, the family sought a second doctor, who attributed his atheism to a personality change. Bala was forcibly committed to a mental institution and has been medicated. He managed to contact activists using a smuggled phone.

Bamidela Adeneye, secretary of the Lagos Humanists (a member of the IHEU), said:

“Kano is a Sharia state and there are many similar cases occurring, where people are forcefully oppressed just because of their beliefs or for conservative religious reasons, or for the “honour” of their family. Often though you only hear about it afterwards, if at all. This is a rare chance to intervene while someone is in dire need and is still alive.”

A lawyer has visited Bala in hospital and will take up the case.

Update: A petition calling for Bala to be released has gained over 3,000 signatures.