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4/29/2024 Nigeria (International Christian Concern) — Zachariah, a Christian living in Nigeria, has been imprisoned since January and was forced to convert to Islam to be reunited with his family. 

In a recent interview with International Christian Concern, Abishag Sambo, an attorney working to help persecuted Christians living in Nigeria, discussed the details of the case. 

Sambo explained that Zachariah met and married a formerly Muslim woman whose name will remain anonymous for security reasons. The woman converted to Christianity before she met Zachariah. After the two married, they had three children and lived as a family for seven years. Zachariah and his wife are in their late 20s, Sambo said.

The woman’s parents never accepted her conversion to Christianity. According to Sambo, “because she married a Christian,” her parents filed a police report claiming Zachariah had abducted their daughter and forced her to convert. 

“Before we knew it, Zachariah was arrested by the police and then taken to the Shariah court,” Sambo explained. “It was at the Shariah court that they sentenced him … There was no legal representation … nobody to stand for him. He was just all alone … They sentenced him and took him straight to jail.” 

Sambo was notified of the case, and due to Zachariah’s status as a Christian, she was able to move it from the Islamic Shariah court to a non-religious magistrate court. 

The magistrate court, however, was not sympathetic to Zachariah’s case. It rejected the evidence of several eyewitness testimonies and legal documents attesting to Zachariah’s innocence. It then ruled to continue to detain him unless he converted to Islam. The court decided that if he became a Muslim, he would be freed and allowed to reunite with his wife and children despite the allegations that he abducted his wife. 

Zachariah’s yearning to be with his family proved too difficult to endure. 

“Because of the torture that [Zachariah] was in, he had no option but to convert and become a Muslim,” Sambo explained.

Additionally, authorities detained Zachariah’s wife for converting to Christianity and gave her the choice to reconvert to Islam. She did so and was released on bail after two weeks due to her conversion and the fact that she had 6-month-old twins who were nursing.

“The condition [the court] gave her was that, if she wants to see her children, she must convert and become a Muslim,” Sambo stated. “If she didn’t do that, she would never, ever see her children again. They would take the children away and assign purported parents for the children.” 

On the other hand, Zachariah did not get released despite his conversion. The court did not uphold its end of the agreement, and Zachariah continues to be jailed and separated from his family. Additionally, because he converted to Islam, he has been cut off from Christian contact, including Sambo. 

Authorities, Sambo explained, are keeping a close eye on Zachariah because they do not believe his conversion to Islam was genuine. 

“They are watching,” Sambo stated. “Seriously watching. And if he decides to come back and become a Christian [again], his life is … at stake.” 

For interviews, please email [email protected].