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Monday, 18 March, 2002, 13:28 GMT
Nigeria court hears stoning appeal
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By the BBC's Dan Isaacs
Sokoto, northern Nigeria
An appeal hearing has begun in Nigeria of a woman convicted of adultery by an Islamic court and sentenced to death by stoning.

Others have committed worse crimes but have not been punished because they have influence in high places. But this is happening to me - a poor woman from a poor village

Safiya Husseini
Safiya Husseini's case has provoked widespread international concern and calls for clemency.

Harsh criminal punishments such as stoning and amputation of limbs for theft have been introduced into the legal code in many of Nigeria's majority Muslim northern states over the past two years.

But although amputations have been carried out, no one has yet been stoned to death.

Safiya told the BBC that she believed her social status was responsible for her current predicament.

"Others have committed worse crimes but have not been punished because they have influence in high places," she said.

Safiya Husseini and baby Adama
Safiya Husseini became pregnant outside marriage
"But this is happening to me - a poor woman from a poor village."

Safiya Husseini arrived in court shrouded in a white headcovering and carrying her one-year old child, Adama, in her arms.

She was convicted by a Sharia court in October 2001 because she had become pregnant outside marriage.

In court she has been defended by a disparate group of lawyers who have come together to fight the case, some funded by human rights groups, others are attending in a voluntary capacity.

Click here to tell us your views on the case

Leading the defence, Abdulqadir Imam Ibrahim has already made the grounds for the appeal quite clear - that Safiya's former husband is the child's father.

Judge Mohammed Bello Sanyinlawal
Judge Mohammed Bello Sanyinlawal passed sentence last October
Although they are officially divorced, under Islamic law this can be used as a valid defence - if, that is, the judges believe her.

Now it is the turn of the state prosecutor to put his case, addressing the four judges of the Sharia court, to a room packed with journalists and wellwishers.

Many in the federal government are uneasy at the publicity that this case has drawn and President Obasanjo himself, who is a devout Christian, has made it clear that he would prefer the sentence not to be carried out.

If Safiya does lose this appeal she can take it further - right up to the Supreme Court in the Nigerian federal capital, Abuja.

The BBC's Dan Isaacs
"For devout muslims, sharia is a way of life"
Ravi Ibrahim, Nigerian muslim rights worker
"He should be punished too"
See also:

18 Mar 02 | Talking Point
Sharia Law: What do you think?
23 Jan 02 | Africa
Nigeria's 'adulteress' set free
19 Oct 01 | Africa
Nigerian appeals Sharia sentence
14 Sep 01 | Africa
Nigerian sentenced to stoning
14 Jan 02 | Africa
Nigeria stoning appeal delayed
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