September 25, 2003
On this day, Amina Lawal, who had earlier in 2002, been condemned to death by stoning in Kastina state, northern Nigeria, for adultery, was set free.
The Sharia Appeal Court sitting Funtua, a town some two hour drive from the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, declared, on this day, that Shariah had not been introduced in Katsina State at the time Amina Lawal committed the offence.
Earlier on the previous day before the judgement day, a coalition of 30 rights organizations in Nigeria had made a last-minute appeal to save Amina’s life. In a statement signed by the programme officer of Woman Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, Titi Salaam, the coalition condemned what it described as the gender bias in the judgements and attitudes of the Shariah Courts in Nigeria. “Only women alleged for committing adultery under the Shariah are being prosecuted and sentenced. Men are always left off the hook for want of evidence,” the statement added.
Amina, who was 31 years old then, was convicted in March, 2002 by a lower Shariah Court in Funtua for adultery and sentenced to death by stoning for giving birth to a baby girl more than nine months of being divorced. She appealed against the ruling to the Upper Shariah court with the hope of getting her sentence quashed. Unfortunately, the Upper Shariah court confirmed the death sentence, but that Amina would have to wean her eight-month-old baby before she was stoned to death.
Rights groups were worried when the Upper Sharia court upheld the death sentence. “We are worried that in this particular case, the judgement is not, for instance, compatible with the Nigerian constitution and Nigeria’s obligation to international instrument and African Charter on Human Rights. We are hoping that the woman will be given the right to enjoy her rights of appeal,” said Steven Callow, spokesperson for Amnesty International.
Amina’s counsel and right activist, Hawa Ibrahim, said that Nigeria was a signatory to International instruments and that such death sentence should not be carried out. She described the judgement by the lower Shariah court as cruel, inhuman and a degrading treatment.
However, before Amina Lawal was freed by the Sharia Appeal Court, the government had already assured that nobody would be put to death through stoning as it weighed the negative impact internationally, of a conviction and killing of Amina Lawal. Dubem Onyia, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, who made government’s position known said, “The ruling is not travesty of justice as there are higher courts yet to examine the case. The Nigerian government has never undermined the rights of its citizens and will not look away when these rights are threatened. It is worthy to mention that in the history of justice in Nigeria no woman has ever been punished in such dastardly manner as pre-empted by this case and will not be an exception.”