Kano (Nigeria) (AFP) - Nine people have been sentenced to death in northern Nigeria after being found guilty of blasphemy, a court clerk and the head of the religious police told AFP on Friday.
The Upper Sharia Court in the city of Kano handed down death sentences to a Sufi Muslim cleric and eight of his followers for remarks they made about the Prophet Mohammed last month.
The comments, made during a religious ceremony, sparked anger and violence in the city.
Court clerk Alhaji Nasuru said the nine, including one woman, were "sentenced to death in accordance with sections 110 and 302 of the Sharia penal code."
Four other followers of the cleric, Aminu Abdul Nyass, were acquitted, he added.
The defendants were arrested when violence broke out in the Makwarari district of Kano as they marked the birthday of the former leader of the Tijaniyya Sufi order, Ibrahim Nyass.
An angry crowd attacked the ceremony and later burnt down Abdul Nyass' home, police said at the time.
Abdul Nyass belongs to a separate branch of Tijaniyya, some of whose beliefs are considered heretical because of their different interpretation of some basic Islamic principles.
The head of the Kano state Sharia (Islamic law) police, known locally as the Hisbah, welcomed the verdicts.
"We are happy the Sharia court handed the death sentences to the nine people who made the blasphemous statements against the Holy Prophet," said Aminu Daurawa.
The trial was held in secret to avoid violence, after crowds set fire to a section of the Sharia court on the defendants' first appearance on May 22.
The judgment still has to be approved by Kano governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, added Daurawa, who warned the sentence should remind Muslims that blasphemy attracts the ultimate penalty.
He also said the risk of violence was high if the nine were released.
"The concern is mobs would take extrajudicial action if these convicts are for whatever reason released because they would certainly kill them when they see them on the streets," he said.
There was no immediate word on whether the nine would appeal.
Sharia courts in northern Nigeria have handed down death sentences for adultery, murder and homosexuality since they were set up in the early 2000s. But to date, no executions have been carried out.
Twelve states in the mainly Muslim north have the courts, which run parallel to state and federal justice system.