The British Humanist Association (BHA) has contacted the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police to express concerns about Daniel Olukoya, a Nigerian pastor who works to “overpower witchcraft”, addressing 20,000 people at the ExCeL centre in Newham by video link from America this evening. The BHA has drawn attention to the harmful impact that beliefs in witchcraft can have on the safety of others, particularly children. The Newham Recorder reports that “Pastor Olukoya’s books and his church’s websites say witchcraft must be fought and ‘overcome’, with prayers held at its branch in Houston, Texas, to ‘destroy the covens of witchcraft’.”
In 2010, 15-year-old Kristy Bamu was murdered in Newham by his sister and her partner when he drowned in the bath during an attempted exorcism. In response to Olukoya’s proposed speech a Newham Council spokeswoman said:
“We would have concerns about these events taking place in the borough and would work with partners to ensure the safety and security of our children. Following the tragic death of Kirsty Bamu, we worked to capture any learning and work with our local community to raise awareness of abuse linked to belief systems.”
BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Pavan Dhaliwal commented:
“Given the history of children being abused following accusations of witchcraft both in Nigeria and in London, we have serious concerns about anybody who genuinely wishes to ‘destroy witchcraft’ from being able to preach such beliefs to a UK audience, given the potential for incitement to violence. We have complained to the Home Office and to Project Violet, the Metropolitan Police’s project designed to prevent abuse due to faith, over Daniel Olukoya’s planned speech, and will be actively monitoring the situation.”
For what it’s worth, we share the BHA’s concerns. Freedom to manifest under Article 9 ECHR is – very properly – subject to “such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”: this case seems, potentially at least, to engage “the interests of public safety”.