Nigerian Women to Appeal Shariah Court Death Sentences

Two women sentenced to death by a court in northern Nigeria are seeking to appeal the sentences, a human rights group said Friday
( [email protected] ) Oct 23, 2004 02:08 PM EDT

Two women sentenced to death by a court in northern Nigeria are seeking to appeal the sentences, a human rights group said Friday. The women, sentenced to death by stoning for allegedly committing adultery, will see their appeals heard on Oct. 25 and Nov. 3 respectively.

Nigeria, a federation of somewhat autonomous states, has 36 states of which 12 predominantly Muslim states have declared Sharia law since 2000.

Under the controversial Islamic Shariah criminal codes, sex outside wedlock is considered adultery if one of the partners is or has ever been married. If neither partner was ever married, then sex outside wedlock is condemned as "fornication," a crime punishable by whipping.

The two recent sentences, passed down in Nigeria's Bauchi state in September and early October, are the first of their kind in over a year in the predominantly Muslim north.

In the most recent case, Hajara Ibrahim from Bauchi state, central eastern Nigeria, was sentenced Oct. 5, confessing to have had a physical relationship with a man by the name of Dauda Sani, whom she claims had promised to marry her.

Sani, however, denied the claim and since Ibrahim, 18, did not have four male witnesses to support her contentions, he was acquitted due to lack of evidence.

Abubakar Bello, the presiding judge at the court in Lere, Tafawa Balewa Local Government Area (LGA), deemed Ibrahim to be a divorcee and, as a consequence, found her guilty of adultery. This carries the mandatory sentence of death by stoning. Judge Bello added, however, that the sentence was subject to the approval of the Governor of Bauchi.

Ibrahim was released into the custody of her family pending the birth of her child. Her family appealed against the sentence at a higher Shari’ah Court, maintaining her marriage was never consummated and that as a single woman Ibrahim should have been charged with fornication, which carries a lesser sentence of flogging. She is due to appeal the ruling on Monday, said Bunmi Dipo-Salami of Baobab, a group of human rights lawyers that is funding lawyers for her defense.

The other woman, 25-year-old Daso Adamu, was sentenced to death by stoning on Sept. 15. A Baobab official reported that Adamu claims she was made pregnant by one of her two ex-husbands and is appealing on the basis that the sentence was "unfair and unjust." The official gave no further details.

According to the Associated Press, Adamu was initially imprisoned along with her baby of less than six months. She was released on bail on Wednesday, after her first appeal hearing. The case was adjourned until Nov. 3.

Under Shariah law, men can only be convicted of adultery on the basis of witness statements, while pregnancy is considered sufficient evidence to convict women. In all but one case, men have been cleared, as Shariah courts found there was insufficient evidence to prove they had sex with the women. Tests to determine children's paternity have not been conducted by the courts.

“It is worrying that women are held to a different standard of evidence to men and that Shari’ah courts continue to hand down sentences that violate Nigeria’s constitutional and international obligations,” commented Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

Thomas said that CSW, a human rights charity based in the UK “will continue to do all it can to support religious freedom in Nigeria and continues to call on the Nigerian authorities to ensure that the country’s secular constitution is adhered to even in those states where Shari’ah law is the de facto state law.”

According to CSW, Adamu and Ibrahim are the third and fourth persons to be sentenced to death in Bauchi under the Shari’ah penal code. No one has so far been stoned to death under Shariah in Nigeria. Two other women have previously been sentenced to death for adultery, but both sentences were overturned on appeal. However, CSW reports that 20 others are awaiting amputations.