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Thursday, 22 August, 2002, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
Pregnant Nigerian seeks Sharia asylum
Amina Lawal, who has been sentenced to death under Sharia law
Amina Lawal could face death by stoning
A pregnant Nigerian woman has been allowed to stay in Cyprus after a court in her country upheld a sentence of death under Sharia law against a woman who had a baby outside marriage.


We will not deport this girl

Andreas Panayiotou, Interior Minister
Authorities in Cyprus say the 21-year-old woman, who is seven months pregnant, was terrified she would face the same face if she returned home to Nigeria.

On Monday, a Sharia court in northern Nigeria upheld a sentence of death by stoning on Amina Lawal, 31, for adultery.

Ms Lawal's conviction has also triggered international criticism by human rights activists and western countries.

The introduction of Islamic law - or Sharia - in northern Nigeria's mostly Muslim states in the past two years has sparked violence in which hundreds of people have been killed.

'Possible risks'

"We will not deport this girl, bearing in mind her condition and the possible risks she may face," Interior Minister Andreas Panayiotou told Reuters news agency.

Atanda Fatimo, a computer student in Cyprus, is said to have spent two nights in police detention, but was released on Wednesday after human rights groups drew the authority's attention to Ms Lawal's case in Nigeria.


It is better for me to be alive than dead

Atanda Fatimo

Police said she had tried to enter Ireland from Cyprus after hearing that her unborn baby would automatically win Irish citizenship if it was born there.

But she was sent back to Cyprus when Irish authorities in Dublin discovered she had a forged British passport.

"I had to look for a way to get away from my country," Reuters quoted Ms Fatimo saying on her release.

"If you are not married and you're pregnant, because of the law, they stone you to death.

"It is better for me to be alive than dead," she said.

But Ms Fatimo may still face charges of possessing faked documents.

The father of the child is said to be in Nigeria.

Amputation

Australia has joined the United States and the European Union in condemning the Sharia punishment.

"If this sentence were to be carried out, it would be received with outrage in Australia and in the wider international community," Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said.

But many Nigerian Muslims reject such criticism.

Nigerian Muslim girls
Women's rights groups say Sharia is harsh for women

The Jamatu Nasril Islam group said on Thursday:

"A billion eyes of the whole world cannot make us abandon our religion and jettison our faith as dictated by the Sharia".

Human rights groups in Nigeria have promised to take Ms Lawal's case to a higher court after an Islamic appeal court ruled against her on Monday.

They have 30 days to lodge an appeal.

This case could now end up in the supreme court in Abuja, where central government has declared such harsh Sharia judgement unconstitutional.

No one has yet been stoned to death for adultery in Nigeria.

A woman convicted under very similar circumstances last year won her appeal a few months ago.

Several thieves have however had their hands amputated.

In another high profile case in 1999, an appeal court in New York ruled in favour of a Ghanaian woman fighting deportation on the grounds that she feared female circumcision if she returned home.


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