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Last Updated: Friday, 26 September, 2003, 08:00 GMT 09:00 UK
Cheers greet Nigerian acquittal
Amina Lawal
This was Lawal's second appeal against the stoning verdict
Governments and human rights groups have welcomed the freeing of a northern Nigerian woman who won her appeal against death by stoning for adultery.

Commonwealth foreign ministers, meeting in New York, greeted news of the acquittal with spontaneous applause.

Thirty-one year old Amina Lawal was convicted last year in Katsina state.

Four out of five judges rejected her conviction, saying she was not given "ample opportunity to defend herself".

She had been found guilty under Sharia (Islamic criminal law) which has been introduced into 12 northern states over the last three years.

"I repeatedly made clear to the Nigerian government that Australia regarded death by stoning as a cruel, inhumane and degrading form of punishment," Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer Downer said in his statement.

Amnesty International welcomed the ruling and called for the Nigerian Government to abolish the death penalty.

"Amina Lawal's case should not have been brought to a court of law in the first instance," the global rights group said in a statement.

"Nobody should ever be made to go through a similar ordeal."

Countries across Africa and Europe also welcomed the decision.

The verdict, which had been expected says the BBC's Anna Borzello in Katsina, was read out to a packed courtroom in the appeal court in the northern town of Katsina.

The panel of judges said the decision to acquit Ms Lawal was based on procedural errors at her original trial and the fact that her adultery was not proved beyond doubt.

Ms Lawal sat throughout the verdict in the corner of the courtroom, her face hidden by a shawl and her child on her lap.

A village woman, she had been convicted of adultery in March last year soon after giving birth to her daughter, Wasila.

This was the second time she had appealed against her sentence of death by stoning, with the help of two Nigeria women's rights groups which took up her case.

While Thursday's ruling means Ms Lawal can go home a free woman, the issue of Sharia and in particular Sharia punishments like flogging for fornication and amputation for theft has not gone away, our correspondent says.

Shortly after the verdict, a Nigerian man was sentenced to death by stoning for sodomy after pleading guilty to sleeping with boys in northern Bauchi state.

The introduction of Sharia punishment has been highly controversial, provoking international concern abroad and sparking religious violence within Nigeria.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Steven Cviic
"Amina Lawal arrived at the courthouse amid intense media interest"



SEE ALSO:
Sex abuser faces stoning death
25 Sep 03  |  Africa
Analysis: Nigeria's Sharia split
07 Jan 03  |  Africa


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