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Monday, 25 March, 2002, 13:36 GMT
Sharia court frees Nigerian woman
Safiya Husaini, smiling after the verdict
An international campaign backed Safiya (bottom right)
A Sharia court in Nigeria has upheld the appeal of a Muslim woman who had been convicted of adultery under Islamic law and sentenced to death by stoning.


Others have committed worse crimes, but because they are men and because they have influence in high places, they are not punished

Safiya Husaini
Safiya Husaini won her case after the court in the northern town of Sokoto said the original ruling was unsound.

But as the verdict was announced, it emerged that a second woman has been sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.

A Sharia court at Bakori in Katsina State sentenced Amina Lawal to die after she confessed to having had a child while divorced.

International attention

In the courtroom in Sokoto, Safiya, smiling broadly, was surrounded by the world's media as she held her one-year-old daughter in her arms.

It was the conception of Safiya's child out of wedlock that had been proof enough at the first trial of her adultery.

Click here for a map of Sharia states

But in Monday's ruling, judge Mohammed Tambari-Uthman said that because the alleged act had taken place before adultery became a criminal offence under Islamic law, her case should be dismissed.

"The first court... that convicted her did not follow the appropriate procedure. The police report also did not give all the necessary information related to the offence," he said.

The BBC Lagos correspondent Dan Isaacs says the ruling will be welcomed by human rights groups around the world.

Eye-witnesses

Anti-adultery laws, however, remain on the statute books in 12 northern Nigerian states, which have reintroduced Sharia law in the past two years.

Man with amputated hand
Thieves risk having their hands cut off
Under Islamic law as practised in northern Nigeria, pregnancy outside marriage is sufficient evidence to convict a woman.

In contrast, four eye-witnesses are required for a man to be found guilty of adultery.

The man named by Ms Lawal as the father of her baby girl admitted they had a relationship but denied having had sex with her.

Charges against him were dropped after no witnesses came forward.

Ms Lawal now has 30 days to appeal against the sentence or she faces being stoned in eight months' time - when she has finished breast-feeding her daughter.

Politicians

Federal Justice Minister Kanu Agabi last week made public a letter he had written to the governors of the northern states, advising them to "take measures to amend or modify the jurisdiction of the courts imposing these punishments".

He said Muslims should not be subjected to more severe punishments than other Nigerians.

He added that he was receiving hundreds of letters every day, protesting against the discriminatory punishments imposed by some Sharia courts.

Under Sharia law, a few convicted thieves have had their hands amputated, while those found guilty of drinking alcohol have been flogged in public.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo - himself a devout Christian - had personally intervened in the case of Safiya Husaini, calling for her acquittal.

The reintroduction of Sharia has sparked religious riots between Muslims and Christians in many states, leaving thousands of people dead.

Some analysts feel the issue is being exploited by politicians ahead of general elections due early next year.


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See also:

22 Mar 02 | Africa
Stoking Nigeria's Sharia fires
18 Mar 02 | Africa
Nigeria stoning decision delayed
19 Oct 01 | Africa
Nigerian appeals Sharia sentence
14 Sep 01 | Africa
Nigerian sentenced to stoning
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