- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2003

Nigerian lawyer Hauwa Ibrahim was in Washington this week to celebrate her success in overturning a death sentence for a Nigerian Muslim woman accused of adultery and to warn that the struggle against unjust laws in her homeland must continue.

A sentence of death by stoning for Amina Lawal, 32, was quashed by a court on Sept. 25 but the state has until the end of this month to appeal. Meanwhile at least five other women face similar sentences in Nigeria.

“This is a great victory for justice. The law of justice has prevailed over the law of man,” Miss Ibrahim said during an appearance at the National Press Club on Wednesday.

But, she stressed, “Amina is not the only [person] accused of these charges.”

Miss Ibrahim, the first woman lawyer in northern Nigeria, said she is not fighting Islam or the strict Islamic “sharia” law under which Miss Lawal was sentenced, but that “we have a mission: the respect of the law of justice.”

The Islamic law, gradually introduced in 12 states in northern Nigeria since 1999, provides a mandatory death penalty for adultery and allows the death penalty for other sexual offenses on a discretionary basis.

Miss Lawal was condemned to death by stoning in March 2002 for bearing a child out of wedlock. The sentence was deferred for eight months while she weaned her daughter, which afforded her an opportunity to appeal.

As it is often the case in an adultery trial, the man whom Miss Lawal named as the father denied involvement and the charges against him were dropped.

Miss Lawal’s sentence was quashed by the sharia court of appeal of Katsina state on the grounds that sharia law was not in effect when she became pregnant.

The court also took into consideration that she had not been caught “in the very act of adultery,” she had not fully understood the proceedings and she was not represented by a lawyer during her trial.

Private organizations such as Baobab For Women’s Human Rights, which focuses on women’s legal rights in Nigeria, worked to publicize the case around the world.

Both Amnesty International and Baobab For Women’s Human Rights refuse to condemn sharia law as long as it respects international human rights standards and international conventions ratified by Nigeria, including a convention against torture.

However sharia courts in several of Nigeria’s northern states continue to sentence convicts to punishments including amputation, flogging and stoning.

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