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Mother To Be Stoned In Nigeria

Court Upholds Stoning for Nigerian Mother

The New York Times Sponsored by Starbucks

August 20, 2002

Court Upholds Stoning for Nigerian Mother


FUNTUA, Nigeria, Aug. 19 — An Islamic high court in northern Nigeria rejected an appeal today from a single mother sentenced to be stoned to death for having had sex out of wedlock.

The woman's lawyers said they planned to file an appeal to a yet higher Islamic court. If that failed, they could appeal to the Supreme Court, where the case would force a showdown between Nigeria's constitutional and religious authorities.

The introduction of Islamic law, or Shariah, in a dozen northern states has sparked clashes between the country's Christians and Muslims.

In addition, President Olusegun Obasanjo's government has declared the unconstitutionality of Shariah punishments like beheadings, stonings and amputations. But some predominantly Muslim northern states, which began instituting Shariah shortly after civilian rule replaced military dictatorship in 1999, have accused him of meddling.

In court today, Amin Lawal clutched her baby daughter and burst into tears as the judge ruled.

Ms. Lawal, 30, was first sentenced in March, having given birth to her daughter more than nine months after divorcing. The man she identified as the child's father denied the accusation and was acquitted for lack of evidence last spring.

"We uphold the judgment from the lower court," Judge Aliyu Abdullahi said today on behalf of four judges at the Islamic high court at Funtua, in Katsina State, in northern Nigeria.

Many of the 60 people who packed the small courtroom shouted, "God is great!" in the Hausa dialect, as Ms. Lawal wept.

The judges upheld the conviction on the ground that Ms. Laval admitted to having had sex outside marriage. But her legal team argued that she could not knowingly have made a confession because she did not understand the Arabic term for adultery, "zena."

The judge said the sentence would be carried out as soon as Ms. Lawal weaned her daughter from breast-feeding. In June, the court postponed her execution until January 2004 for that reason. She was given 30 days to appeal the ruling and was then released on bail.

Outside the court today, Ms. Lawal hid behind her lawyer, holding her baby up to shield her face from photographers. About 20 police officers armed with tear gas stood guard at the court entrance, but there were no immediate reports of violence.

Ms. Lawal is the second Nigerian woman to be condemned to death by Islamic courts for sex out of wedlock. The first, Safiya Hussaini, had her sentence overturned in March on an appeal.

At least two other women have faced similar charges. One case was dismissed in January, and the other has been delayed until the woman is healthy enough to appear in court.

All the women are poor, uneducated, single mothers from rural villages.

Most spectators in court on Monday welcomed the ruling.

"This is a triumph of Allah's law against the enemies of Shariah," said Muhammad Radiu, 26, an Islamic studies student. "By this judgment, we are confident the government is serious about the implementation of Shariah."

But church leaders and rights advocates were dismayed.

"The application of the Shariah is unconstitutional, and we must not tolerate it further," John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, told the Italian-based missionary news service, Misna.

Amnesty International said in a statement in London that stoning people to death was "the ultimate form of torture" and that the "sentence should not be carried out."

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