A lawyer for a woman sentenced to be stoned appealed before an Islamic court in northern Nigeria yesterday against her conviction for adultery.
Daso Adamu, 25, contested her conviction on the basis that the father of her six-month-old child was a husband she divorced in 2001. Her lawyer, Abdulkadir Suleiman, argued that sharia law allowed for five years between conception and birth, and that the conception could thus be considered to have taken place during her marriage, Associated Press reported.
The court in Ningi village in Bauchi state was expected to rule next month. If the conviction handed down in September is upheld, Ms Adamu can make a second appeal to a higher court. The state governor's consent is then needed; no such execution has ever gone ahead.
According to her lawyer, Ms Adamu had confessed to adultery (a capital offence under sharia law) only because the former husband made it a condition of his remarrying her. After admitting having had sex with the 35-year-old man 12 times, she was briefly jailed with her baby. At the same time as she was convicted, a pregnant woman in the Tafawa Balewa area of Bauchi state, Hajara Ibrahim, was convicted of adultery, with her capital sentence suspended until after she gave birth. Yesterday Ms Ibrahim lodged an appeal in the Dass upper sharia court; its judgment is due on November 10.
Since 12 northern states introduced sharia law in 2000 there have been at least 10 death sentences; only one, the hanging of a murderer, is known to have been carried out. Of dozens of people sentenced to amputations for stealing, three have lost limbs. There have been no amputations for three years, reflecting a trend towards successful appeals and an ebbing in the enforcement of sharia law.
President Olusegun Obasanjo openly disapproves of a brand of justice which divides Africa's most populous country, a volatile balance of around 130 million Muslims and Christians which periodically flares in religious riots.
Appeal judges and state governors have proved reluctant to sanction stonings, floggings and amputations in the face of outcries from the federal government and foreigners, and also because the political value of such sentences has dwindled. Analysts attributed the rise of sharia partly to northern politicians seeking to tap Muslim discontent with Christian elites and a slow, corrupt judicial system. As those politicians became less popular, so did the sharia they championed.
The New York-based group Human Rights Watch warned in a report last September that sharia was being abused, and infringed human rights.
Suspects were often tortured into confessing, lacked legal representation and faced judges who did not inform them of their rights, claimed the report. Women especially were vulnerable since pregnancy could be evidence of adultery, an accusation that male suspects shrug off.
"State governments and sharia courts have not only failed to respect international human rights standards, they have also disregarded what many Muslims argue are key principles of sharia itself," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Africa division.
"They have concentrated on the harsh aspects of Islamic law while ignoring its principles of generosity and compassion."
Rory Carroll, Africa correspondent Thursday November 4, 2004 The Guardian
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