NIGERIA: Appeal court to rule on Lawal death sentence in September
Katsina State, Nigeria
KATSINA, 27 August 2003 (IRIN) - An Islamic appeal court in northern Nigeria said on Wednesday it would rule on 25 September whether a young mother sentenced to death by stoning for adultery should be executed.
Amina Lawal, 32, was sentenced to death by a lower Shari'ah or Islamic court in March last year after she had a baby out of wedlock. She was convicted under the strict religious penal code adopted by a dozen states in Nigeria's mainly Muslim north over the past four years.
The lower court ruled that Lawal should be stoned to death after she had weaned her baby, which is now 20 months old. The man who she said was responsible for making her pregnant was acquitted after he swore by the Koran that it was not him.
The death sentence was confirmed by an upper Shari'ah court in August 2002, prompting an appeal to Katsina state's highest appeal court.
The case has caused global outrage, with human rights and women activists launching a worldwide campaign to save Lawal's life.
After several postponements, Lawal's appeal was concluded before the Katsina Shari'ah Court of Appeal on Wednesday.
"This case has been prolonged," presiding judge or Grand Khadi Aminu Ibrahim, said as the defence and prosecution readied their arguments in the court room, which was packed with foreign and Nigerian journalists. "It is not good to keep her in suspense for so long."
Making the case for Lawal's acquittal, Aliyu Musa Yawuri, the chief defence lawyer, argued that she became pregnant before Shari'ah law came into force in Katsina state. He also pointed out that the court which originally convicted her did not explain her offence and the likely penalty for it before she was said to have confessed.
The defence further argued that under Islamic law some pregnancies could take five years to gestate. This meant that Lawal's baby might technically have been created by her former husband, from whom she became divorced two years earlier.
Mohammed Darma, the lead prosecuting lawyer, insisted as the prosecution had always done in this case, that the fact the Lawal was divorced when she became pregnant was adequate evidence of her guilt.
Whatever ruling is given on 25 September could still be challenged by either the defence or the prosecution at the Federal Court of Appeal, and in the last resort at the Supreme Court.
Lawal is one of five people who have been sentenced to death by stoning for adultery by Islamic courts in northern Nigeria in the past three years.
Safiya Husseini Tunga Dudu, who also had a baby out of wedlock, was finally acquitted on 19 March last year, the same day that Lawal received her sentence.
Sarimu Mohammed Baranda, a 54-year-old man sentenced to death for raping a nine-year-old, girl was reprieved on appeal last week after pleading insanity.
A couple in Niger State is also appealing against a death sentence handed down for adultery.
President Olusegun Obasanjo's government has condemned the application of Sharia'h punishments on the grounds that they contravene Nigeria's constitution. It has said that it will not allow stoning sentences to be carried out.
However, the government says it is constrained to intervene at the present stage by the country's federal structure, under which the 36 states have the autonomy to enact their own laws.
The introduction of strict Sharia'h law has increased tensions between the country's Muslim north and Chrisitian-dominated south, leading to outbreaks of sectarian violence in which thousands of people have died.