Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: Amina Lawal, a Nigerian woman, has been sentenced to death by stoning for committing adultery.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2002]
Origins: In March 2002, 30-year-old Amina Lawal (sometimes called Amina Lawal Kurami), was found guilty of the crime of adultery by a court in the remote village of Kurani in Nigeria. The sentence handed down was that she be buried up to her neck and stoned to death.
In August 2002 Amina's appeal was rejected by the regional appeals court and her death sentence upheld. Her execution is to be carried out no earlier than January 2004, giving her time to wean Wasila, the child she conceived out of wedlock.
Amina's story is a sad one. She was the youngest of
About five months after her second divorce, she began receiving attentions from another man, Yahay Mohammed. They were an item for about eleven months, during which time she conceived. After the baby was born, Yahay admitted paternity and agreed to help support Amina and the child. But he later recanted his admission, bending to pressure from his family, who thought such an admission would bring shame upon them.
Amina was brought before a Sharia court on a charge of adultery. The child in her arms was proof enough that she'd been engaging in sex outside marriage (her baby was born sixteen months after her divorce), and she freely admitted to having had carnal relations with Yahay Mohammed. Later she was to learn just how damning that admission was, but at the time she made it, she likely thought no more of it than its being a necessary part of establishing Yahay as the father of her daughter.
Yahay denied he had had sex with her, and as there was no other proof against him, he was not charged. An adultery charge was returned against Amina, and six weeks later she was sentenced to death.
All of this sounds wildly improbable to Western ears, which are unaccustomed to laws so frighteningly intrusive and the unbelievably harsh penalties attached to them, but this is the way of things under Sharia law. Twelve of Nigeria's nineteen northern Muslim states have adopted the strict Sharia code since 1999, and human rights groups have recorded a series of cases of punishment under the code, including amputations and floggings. Amnesty International has said the punishments amount to "ill-treatment and
Under this strict Islamic rule of law known as the Sharia (the same code imposed by the Taliban in Afghanistan), the penalty for adultery when one or both of the participants is (or has been) married is death. Moreover, under a traditionally strict interpretation of the Koran adopted in those nothern states, Amina's pregnancy alone was considered sufficient evidence of her adultery.
Will signing a petition help the cause? In all likelihood it won't. The person to whom the missive is being addressed, Olusegun Obasanjo, the President of Nigeria, is both opposed to the sentence and almost powerless to do anything about it. He has said that under Nigeria's federal system of government the mainly Muslim northern states have every right to reintroduce the Sharia code into their penal law, and that while he will weep for Amina and for Nigeria itself if her execution is carried out, he will not overturn the finding of that court.
Nigeria is a country effectively split into two, with Christians to the south and Muslims to the north. Those nineteen northern provinces have chosen Sharia law, and up until now Nigerian law has recognized the rights of individual states to govern themselves. To suddenly change this by overruling a verdict and sentence handed down by a court in one of those provinces could result in a civil war in that country.
Diplomatic remedies are being sought, and maybe if a passingly plausible loophole can be found, that northern court of appeals will overturn Amina's conviction on even the flimiest of pretexts, as another did in the 2001-2002 case of Safiya Hussaini, another Nigerian woman then under sentence to be stoned to death for having committed adultery. Safiya's conviction was overturned in a Muslim appeals court in March 2002 on the grounds that her "adultery" had taken place prior to Sharia's law being enacted in her region.
Those grounds did not work for Amina, though. The judge at the appeals hearing rejected the argument that her conviction for adultery was invalid because, as her lawyers claimed, the child was born before Sharia law took effect in her area. If a loophole is to be found in the Sharia courts, it will have to be based on other legal grounds.
So far, Amina's sentence has been suspended until January 2004 to allow her to care for her baby until it is weaned. Meanwhile, a team of lawyers continues to pursue the avenues of appeal still open to her. Amina's last appeals hearing in Sharia court was scheduled for
Whether Amina's lawyers can successfully appeal her death sentence before Nigeria's secular supreme court (rather than the Islamic Sharia court) is problematic because such an appeal would test the authority of Islamic courts to hand down such sentences. If it were to be heard, it would create a knotty political situation for Nigeria's federal government: If they deny the appeal, they risk the condemnation of much of the international community (including nearly all of the western world) as well as the discontent of southern Nigerians concerned over the spread of Sharia rule; if they uphold the appeal, they would offend much of Muslim northern Nigeria for daring to overrule Islamic law. No wonder the President of that country is hoping the matter resolves itself before Amina's sentence is due to be carried out, and why at this point all he will offer for her are his tears.
Pressure from the international community plus the announcement that several contestants in the upcoming Miss World beauty pageant (which Nigeria was scheduled to host in December 2002) would boycott the event led the government of Nigeria to issue statements in November 2002 pledging to quash Islamic stoning sentences. However, after an outbreak of violence between Muslims and Christians (triggered in part by opposition to the Miss World content, which has been characterized by fundamentalist Islamic groups as a "parade of nudity" likely to undermine the fight against AIDS) spread to the Nigerian capital of Abuja — planned site of the beauty pageant — and left over
Would sending letters to the Sharia appeals court in Katsina (the one which has already heard her appeal and rejected it) help? This is even more unlikely: Muslim fundamentalists deeply resent Western interference of any sort at any time, so telling them the world will be angry with them unless they reverse themselves isn't going to be the carrot that will inspire this particular donkey. They believe the teachings of the Koran and their interpretations and applications of them are entirely above matters of world opinion — to them, they are answering to God, and nothing may be placed ahead of that.
Let's hope God calls them direct.
Barbara "and that He reverses the charges" Mikkelson
Update: A revised petition circulated in mid-2003 claimed Amina was due to be executed by stoning on
A further revision claimed she would be executed on
On 27 August 2003, Amina Lawal once again appeared in court to plead that she be spared from death by stoning. The Sharia judges stated at the end of the hearing that they would announce their ruling on
Last updated: 15 December 2007
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