Origins: In the autumn of 2001, Safiya Hussaini a 35-year-old woman from the northern Nigerian state of Sokoto, was found guilty by a ruling tribunal of the crime of adultery. The sentence handed down was that she be buried up to her neck and stoned to death. As Safiya awaited an appeal of her death sentence, her case became an international cause as human rights organizations and officials from country upon country called upon the Nigerian government to intercede on her behalf and prevent her execution. Safiya was the focus of an uneasy standoff between federal and local authority, between religious and secular law and tradition, in politically unstable Nigeria.
Safiya is from Tungar Tudu, a village of 3,000 people living mud-and-straw homes about 20 miles from Sokoto. Last year, she divorced her husband because he could not support her and moved back into her father's house with her two children. Then, as she told a New York Times reporter:
Not long after her pregnancy began to show, the police arrived and interrogated her. She says she has no idea who told them. Sufiya, who is illiterate, and Abubakar were then taken to the police station in Sokoto, where they confessed to having sex. At the time, Sufiya did not say that she had been raped. "He said he loved me and he could not suppress his feelings for me," she says of Abubakar. "He promised to take care of the child. My father suggested that he should marry me, and he agreed."
According to The New York Times:
Unfortunately, northern Nigeria is a region in which police are regarded an ineffective, corrupt institution; where "politicians compete to exploit public enthusiasm for law and order" by supporting strict sharia law; and where the largely poor, uneducated, and illiterate citizenry unquestioningly accepts the pronouncements of their leaders. Had Sufiya's appeal been rejected by the regional appeals court (also governed by sharia law), it would have gone to Nigeria's supreme court, thereby creating a knotty political situation for Nigeria's federal government: If they denied the appeal, they risked 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 upheld the appeal, they would have offended much of Muslim northern Nigeria for daring to overrule Islamic law.
One of the aspects Sufiya found hardest to accept about her situation, as reported in The Scotsman, is that she alone should bear the punishment for her "crime":
Safiya's case parallels another currently in the news, that of Amina Lawal, another Nigerian woman currently under sentence to be stoned to death for having committed adultery.
Petition to the leaders of Nigeria
Last updated: 5 January 2008
Bridgland, Fred. "'I Insist That My Crime Is Not Adultery.'" The Scotsman. 25 January 2002 (p. 6). Dowden, Richard. "Death by Stoning." The New York Times. 27 January 2002 (Magazine; p. 28). Dowden, Richard. "Woman Who Was Raped Faces Death by Stoning." The [London] Independent. 5 January 2002 (Foreign News; p. 14). Egan, Kelly. "Nigeria to Appeal Death by Stoning." The Ottawa Citizen. 24 February 2002 (p. A13). Noor, Farish A. "Tensions Between Tradition, Orthodoxy." [Malaysia] New Straits Times. 18 January 2002 (p. 10). Younge, Gary. "Women: Is This Justice?" The [London] Guardian. 10 January 2002 (p. 8). Associated Press. "Nigerian Woman Condemned to Death by Stoning Is Acquitted." The New York Times. 26 March 2002. The Australian. "MPs Implore Nigeria Not to Stone Woman." 15 January 2002 (p. 9).