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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 June, 2003, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
Stoning appeal in Nigeria

By Dan Isaacs
BBC, Lagos

Nigerian woman Amina Lawal has had her appeal adjourned until 27 August as she seeks to overturn a conviction for adultery.

Amina Lawal
Ms Lawal's case is being watched closely across the world
She has been sentenced to die by stoning, the severest of all punishments under Islamic laws now practised in the country's majority-Muslim northern states.

But Amina is not the only one fighting for her life.

In a separate case, both a man and woman alleged to have been having an adulterous relationship have been sentenced to the same punishment and begin their own appeals on Wednesday.

Amina's case

Amina Lawal was convicted of adultery in March last year by a court in the far northern state of Katsina.

Fatima Usman
Fatima Usman is also appealing against a death sentence
She had borne a child outside marriage. And although she had in fact been divorced for some years - the mandatory punishment, under Islamic law as it is practised in Nigeria, is still death by stoning.

Amina has already lost one appeal against the sentence, and her lawyers are struggling to find new grounds on which to win an appeal.

President Olusegun Obasanjo himself has promised that the sentence against Amina Lawal will not be carried out.

But he has chosen his words very carefully. He won't intervene directly, nor will he challenge the right of Islamic courts to impose such punishments.

Rather, he says he is confident the appeal courts will quash the conviction.

Well, the president's confidence in Nigeria's legal system is due to be tested.

Couple's plight

Particularly as Amina's case is not the only one that comes up for appeal this week.

A couple in the north-central state of Niger - Fatima Usman and Ahmadu Ibrahim - are due to appear in court to plead for their lives.

Their own story is a particularly sad one.

They had originally been sentenced to terms of imprisonment.

But when the father of the woman challenged the severity of the prison terms, the sentence was indeed amended - not towards greater leniency, but rather to impose the far harsher death sentences instead.

This incident highlights what defence lawyers are most aggrieved about.

That is, the arbitrary and confused nature of the entire Sharia legal system in a society where sexual relationships outside wedlock are far from uncommon.

And where many ordinary many Muslims in the north point to the hypocrisy of their political leaders, carrying on clandestine affairs outside marriage, and yet supporting the death sentences against young women such as Amina Lawal.

As yet, no stoning punishment has yet been carried out in Nigeria.

And human rights groups around the world will be watching these latest appeals very closely in an attempt to make sure none ever do.

Amina Lawal campaign 'unhelpful'
13 May 03  |  Africa
Nigerian stoning trial delay
25 Mar 03  |  Africa
Analysis: Nigeria's Sharia split
07 Jan 03  |  Africa

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