Nigerian preacher and founder of the Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries, Helen Ukpabio, has sued two UK human rights groups for £500 million( N130 billion).
Ms. Ukpabio is accusing British Humanist Association, BHA, and the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network, WHRIN, of libel.
According to the preacher, her teachings that a child “under the age of two” who exhibits certain “symptoms” may be possessed by vampire spirits have been misrepresented by the groups.
A child under the age of two who is “possessed with black, red and vampire witchcraft spirits” can be identified by features such as s/he “screams at night, cries, is always feverish, suddenly deteriorates in health, puts up an attitude of fear, and may not feed very well,” according to Ms. Ukpabio.
The preacher said children who stamp their feet may be “trying to make signs… to communicate with gnomes, the witchcraft spirit in charge of the earth.”
A statement by the groups to PREMIUM TIMES, Monday, quoted Ms. Ukpabio as stating that the BHA and WHRIN had misrepresented her by saying that she ascribed these symptoms to Satanic possession and hence had damaged her reputation and livelihood to the sum of half a billion pounds.
Andrew Copson, BHA’s Chief Executive, described the legal action against his group as an attempt by Ms. Ukpabio to silence her critics.
“Given her baseless identification of features of ‘possessed children’ and her dangerous and irresponsible teachings we feel a strong moral duty to point this out and will not be deflected by libel suits from wealthy ‘witch-finders,’ Mr. Copson said.
“The fact that she is threatening to launch a legal claim for half a billion pounds over an alleged distinction between being accused of exorcising ‘Satan’ or ‘Vampires’ tells you all you need to know about Ms Ukpabio.
“Threats of legal action like this are blatant attempts to silence critics of the harms done by these religious and superstitious beliefs and rituals. Rather than entertaining her vexatious claims in the courts, we believe the UK should be ensuring that Ms Ukpabio and her ilk are denied entry to our country to protect children from their degrading practices,” he added.
Last April, several UK activists launched a campaign for the government to ban and deport Ms. Ukpabio, who had flown into the country at the time, accusing her of being a “risk to youngsters.”
Gary Foxcroft, Executive Director of WHRIN said that the court case is the latest in a long line of “unsuccessful legal actions” that Ms. Ukpabio had pursued against him and other human rights activists.
“Previous cases were thrown out of court in Nigeria but this time she is looking to take action in a UK court,” Mr. Foxcroft said.
“I have no doubt that a judge in the UK will reach the same conclusion as those in Nigeria. Of course, the real question here is whether our government should allow hate preachers like Helen Ukpabio to enter the UK.
“Since her teachings have been linked to widespread child abuse in reports by the United Nations, and various other bodies, it would appear that this may not be in the public interest. This case also therefore provides the Home Secretary and the National Working Group to Tackle Child Abuse linked to Faith and Belief with a great opportunity to take concrete action, condemn the practices of such pastors and ensure that justice is served,” he added.
In his reaction the suit, Mark Stephens, the lawyer representing the defendants in the suit, said that British libel laws must never be abused to censor matters of such public importance.
“We thought witch-finding had been left behind in all civilized societies since the death of the last Witch-finder general, Matthew Hopkins in 1644. Hopkins had pursued innocent people – often elderly women living alone – persecuted and executed them on the basis of a primitive and superstitious belief that they were witches,” said Mr. Stephens of HowardKennedyFSI.
“The horrific consequences of such beliefs are demonstrated in Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible.
“Whilst the medieval methods of Matthew Hopkins are no longer used to “identify witches”, of course, we must remain ever vigilant of the danger of persecution of innocent children – babies, even – being branded as witches by latter-day self-styled witch-finders with perverse and pernicious views. These people must not be allowed to identify the vulnerable as witches. Freedom of speech is at its most precious when it permits voices to be raised against such evil,” he added.