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Monday, 8 July, 2002, 13:34 GMT 14:34 UK
Nigerian woman fights stoning
Amina Lawal, with her baby Wasila
Amina's baby, Wasila, was evidence of her 'crime'

An appeal hearing is due to open in northern Nigeria on Monday for a woman convicted of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning under controversial Sharia, or Islamic, laws.

This is the second such case to come before the Sharia court of appeal.


If there is one issue that threatens to divide this country more than any other it is the implementation of these strict Islamic laws

The previous conviction was overturned earlier this year after intense international pressure from human rights groups.

Despite the Nigerian federal government declaring such strict Sharia punishments unconstitutional, the country's northern states appear determined to enforce these laws.

Amina Lawal now has an eight-month old baby daughter.

The existence of this child, born to a divorcee, was evidence enough to convict her of the crime of adultery.

At her appeal being funded by human rights groups, she is expected to claim that the father of the child is her former husband, using the defence allowable under Islamic law that the foetus lay dormant in her womb since the divorce two years ago.

Human rights campaigners say that the punishment is not only inhumane but severely discriminates against women.

To convict a man of the same crime he must either confess directly to the court, or no less than four men have to attest to witnessing the physical act of adultery.

Religious split

If there is one issue that threatens to divide this country more than any other it is the implementation of these strict Islamic laws in the majority Muslim northern states.

Amnesty campaigners next to a pile of stones outside Nigeria's embassy in Madrid
Amnesty International is campaigning against the stoning sentence

Although the punishment only applies to Muslims, Christians in the north feel threatened and tensions between the two communities have led to major outbreaks of inter-religious violence over the past three years.

The federal government has declared such Sharia punishments unconstitutional but, in direct defiance of this, northern leaders have pressed ahead, resisting what they describe as "undue pressure" from non-Muslims in the Nigerian Government.

If Amina Lawal loses her appeal this time, she can take her case all the way to the Supreme Court in Abuja.

Only then would the debate come to a head and the constitutionality of the strict Sharia punishments really be tested.


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