Nigeria Acquits Woman Sentenced to Stoning Death
Associated Press, September 25, 2003
By Todd Pitman, AP
KATSINA, Nigeria—An Islamic appeals court Thursday
threw out the case of a Nigerian woman sentenced to death by stoning for
committing adultery, a case that sharpened the divide between Muslims and
Christians in Africa’s most populous country.
Amina Lawal would have been the first woman stoned to death since 12
northern states began adopting strict Islamic law, or Shariah, in 1999. Four
of five judges on the court voted to overturn the verdict, citing procedural
errors in her original trial.
Wrapped in a light orange veil, her eyes downcast, Lawal cradled her nearly
2-year-old daughter as the court announced its decision. Police and lawyers
hustled her away afterward.
“It’s a victory for law. It’s a victory for justice,” said defense
attorney Hauwa Ibrahim. “And it’s a victory for what we stand
for—dignity and fundamental human rights.”
An Islamic court first convicted Lawal, 32, in March 2002 after the birth
of her daughter two years after she divorced her husband. Judges rejected
Lawal’s first appeal five months later.
Prosecutors, who argued Lawal’s child was living proof she committed
adultery, said they were satisfied with the verdict but had 30 days to appeal.
The verdict drew international condemnation. The government of President
Olusegun Obasanjo called for Lawal’s life to be spared, and Brazil offered
The Islamic appeals panel ruled the conviction couldn’t stand because
Lawal wasn’t given enough time to understand the charges against her; only
one judge, instead of the required three, presided at her trial; and she was
not caught in the act of sex out of wedlock.
In the sole dissenting opinion, Judge Sule Sada said Lawal had confessed to
the crime and the conviction should stand. But the defense had argued that the
court should reject Lawal’s confession because no lawyers were present when
she made it.
The introduction of strict Islamic law in a dozen northern states has
triggered deadly clashes between Christians and Muslims. Five people,
including Lawal, have been sentenced to death by stoning. Three have had their
“We think the death penalty for adultery is contrary to the Nigerian
constitution,” said Francois Cantier, a lawyer with French group Avocats
Sans Frontieres, or Lawyers Without Borders, who was advising the defense.
“We think that death by stoning is contrary to international treaties
against torture which Nigeria has ratified. We think that death by stoning is
degrading human treatment.”
Also under Shariah, one man has been hanged for killing a woman and her two
children and Muslim authorities have amputated the hands of three people for
Many Muslims in the predominantly Islamic north have welcomed Shariah,
saying it’s a key part of their religion and discourages crime.
Lead defense lawyer Aliyu Musa Yawuri said Lawal—a poor, uneducated woman
from a rural family—didn’t understand the charges against her at the time.
Lawal has identified her alleged sexual partner, Yahaya Mohammed, and said
he promised to marry her. Mohammed, who would also have faced death by stoning
denied any wrongdoing and was acquitted for lack of evidence.
Lawal is the second Nigerian woman to be condemned to death for having sex
out of wedlock under Islamic law. The first, Safiya Hussaini, had her sentence
overturned on appeal in March—the same time that Lawal was convicted.
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