- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 1, 2002

JOHANNESBURG Several Miss World contestants say they will boycott this year's beauty pageant in Nigeria after an Islamic court there sentenced the mother of an 8-month-old baby to death by stoning for adultery.
Africa's most populous nation will host the contest in November after the victory last year of its entrant Agbani Darego, the first black African to win the title.
Nigerian Muslim groups have already threatened to disrupt the competition, describing it as "feckless and immoral and designed to breed promiscuity." Now it has been plunged into fresh controversy after a Shariah court in the Muslim north confirmed the penalty on Amina Lawal last month.
Kathrine Soerland, Miss Norway, condemned the stoning sentence as "utterly revolting," and warned organizers that she would not attend the competition unless Mrs. Lawal was pardoned.
Miss Ivory Coast, Yannick Azebian, 18, said: "I'm not going to Nigeria, and I hope my decision will help save Amina Lawal." Her fellow African, Miss Togo, Sandrine Agbopke, added, "Stoning this woman is not right. All of society should rise up to end this sort of practice."
Beauty queens representing the Netherlands and Poland have also criticized the sentence and the threatened boycott is expected to grow. Britain's Miss World contestant will be chosen this week.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has so far resisted calls from civil liberties organizations to intervene but will be distressed that the opportunity to host the pageant is being overshadowed. With an audience of 1.2 billion in 140 countries, Miss World is among the most widely watched television shows in the world.
"I don't think what is going on will lead to her death," the president said about Mrs. Lawal. "Indeed, if it does, which I very much doubt, I will weep for myself, I will weep for Amina and I will weep for Nigeria."
Kenya has called on Nigeria's leaders to intervene for the benefit of the entire continent or face the wrath of its neighbors.
The Islamic high court in Funtua, in Katsina state rejected Mrs. Lawal's argument that her conviction was invalid because the child was conceived before Shariah law took effect in the state. She was also divorced from her first husband when she became pregnant by a man who, she said, had promised to marry her.
Mrs. Lawal, who was clutching her daughter Wasila during the hearing Aug. 19, wept as the sentence was upheld, while scores of spectators cheered and shouted: "God is great."
The court granted her a two-year reprieve to wean her baby. Her lawyer, Hauwa Ibrahim, said that an appeal would probably be lodged this week with the Katsina Shariah appeal court.
Safiya Husseini, who was convicted in similar circumstances last year for having sex outside marriage, won an appeal on the grounds that it had happened before Shariah law took effect. But a teenage single mother was given 100 lashes early last year for adultery, even though she argued that she was raped by three men.

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