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Saturday, 5 October, 2002, 17:25 GMT 18:25 UK
Terrified mother awaits stoning appeal
Amina Lawal and baby
Amina Lawal says she is trusting in God

Amina Lawal is in hiding, awaiting the outcome of her latest appeal against being sentenced to death by stoning in a Nigerian Islamic court.

Her crime - to have given birth to a child out of wedlock.

Since she lost her last appeal, Amina has been vomiting blood - the doctors say from stress.


She has not been given a chance to prove her innocence. That on its own has led to a miscarriage of justice

Indidi Ekweke, human rights lawyer
When I met her, hunted and condemned, she told me her sleep was haunted by nightmares.

"I do not have any feelings, except that I give my fate to God," she said.

"My only hope and prayers are to see that I get out of this trauma."

The Sharia court in the Muslim dominated north of the country found her guilty of adultery and sentenced her to be buried in the ground up to her chest and stoned to death.

Amina's home in the north - far from where she is now hiding - is a poor town where many are illiterate.

Vigilantes active

Sharia is the law and the region is a breeding ground for religious fundamentalism.

Amina, branded an adulteress, is not safe there.

After dark, Muslim vigilantes come out in force, fuelled by fervour and looking to catch offenders of Islam.

They see a man and begin to hunt him down.

Nigerian Muslim girls
Human rights groups say Sharia is harsh
He gets away, which is lucky for him, because justice is rough here.

Those found guilty of petty theft or who are caught drinking alcohol or gambling receive 80 strokes of the whip.

The aim is not so much to cause pain as public humiliation. It is a system built on fear.

One criminal, Mohammed, stole nine bicycles. That is not considered petty theft here.

Sharia 'working'

His right hand was amputated for the crime. The authorities say they were humane because they cut his hand off under anaesthetic.

The man who introduced Sharia law to Nigeria, Alhaji Ahmed Sani, the governor of Zamfara Province, says it is working.

"People are now more alert to their responsibilities to God. More alert to their responsibilities to fellow human beings," he said. "There is a decreasing crime rate, there is a general change in behaviour."

Man with amputated hand
Serious theft is punished by amputation
Amina lost her appeal for clemency six weeks ago. Her pregnancy out of marriage was deemed proof of guilt.

Initially she had no lawyer to defend her. Indidi Ekweke, a human rights lawyer, says Amina has been denied justice.

"She may have been raped. She has not been given a chance to prove her innocence. That on its own has led to a miscarriage of justice," she said.

There has never been a stoning before in Nigeria. This is a democracy, but now the power of religion could change all that.

Sharia law is thought to come straight from God and that is what makes it so unquestionable.

For Amina it provides the chilling prospect that she will lose her appeal and actually be stoned to death.

If the sentence is carried out, the implications will be enormous because it will fuel the flames of Islamic fundamentalism here in Africa's most populous nation.

Amina does have another chance to appeal but she may need political intervention to save her from an horrific death that many here think she deserves.


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19 Aug 02 | African Debates
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