Nigerian pastor, wife acquitted of wrongdoing 3 years after jailing

Rev. Jonah Gangas and his wife, Josephine
Rev. Jonah Gangas and his wife, Josephine | ADF International

A court in Nigeria’s Kaduna State has acquitted the Rev. Jonah Gangas and his wife, Josephine, of charges after they were jailed for over three years. The couple, associated with the ECWA Church, faced accusations of kidnapping and proselytizing a young Muslim girl, which they denied, claiming they acted on police request.

The couple, from the Evangelical Church Winning All, were embroiled in a legal battle after taking in a 12-year-old Muslim girl who had run away from home, the legal group ADF International said.

In 2013, the police had asked them to care for the girl, who stayed with them for seven years and completed her secondary education before reuniting with her family. However, following a complaint from the girl’s family, influenced by an Islamic organization, the Gangases were arrested and charged with kidnapping and converting the girl to Christianity.

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Their trial saw numerous delays, but finally, the High Court of Justice in Kaduna State has ruled in their favor, stating that the prosecution failed to present a prima facie case against them, ADF International said, explaining that there was insufficient evidence for the case to proceed.

Sean Nelson, legal counsel for ADF International, expressed gratitude for the couple’s acquittal. “Charitable works are a vital part of many religions, including Christianity, and no one should be punished for performing them,” he said. “For simply helping this young girl, and taking her in during a moment of need, they were punished, prosecuted, and imprisoned. … We hope that this decision will positively impact other Christians and religious minorities in the country who are being unjustly punished for their faith, as well.”  

Sunny Akanni, the lead attorney on the case, said, “Christians in Nigeria are unfairly discriminated against for their faith, and we need all who are able to continue to raise their voices in support of religious freedom for all Nigerians. It is my prayer that soon, all Nigerians will be able to worship and share their faith freely, and without fear of retribution.”

The ECWA, where the Gangases serve, is a significant Christian denomination in Nigeria, boasting over 10 million members.

Nigeria has a troubling record of violence against Christians, with a significant number of believers killed for their faith annually. The use of blasphemy laws has further heightened tensions between religious communities, leading to violence and discrimination.

ADF International, which supported the Gangases, is also involved in other high-profile cases in Nigeria, including the defense of Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, a musician facing the death penalty for blasphemy, and Rhoda Jatau, a Christian mother accused of blasphemy.

In October 2023, United Nations human rights experts criticized Nigeria’s blasphemy laws, linking them to violations of international human rights standards. This criticism came in the wake of the violent death of Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu, a student killed by classmates for her Christian faith, and the arrest of Jatau for condemning Yakubu’s murder.

The international community, including organizations like ADF International and the United Nations, continues to call for changes in Nigeria’s approach to religious freedom and blasphemy.

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