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Amina Lawal

In the past we dealt extensively with the case of the Nigerian woman Amina Lawal, a case which received a great deal of media coverage. In March 2002 Amina Lawal was found guilty of having had an illegitimate child. Although she had already been divorced for two years at the time of the birth, a Sharia court sentenced Amina to death by stoning for adultery.

Under Sharia, Islamic law, which has been introduced in several states in northern Nigeria, becoming pregnant when unmarried is sufficient grounds for being declared adulterous. Amnesty International takes no position with respect to the introduction of Sharia as long as it exercised in compliance with international standards of human rights. However, in the case of Amina Lawal, these standards were not adhered to in several respects.

The sentence to death by stoning passed on Amina Lawal is a cruel, inhumane and degrading form of treatment and is thus in contradiction with the UN Convention Against Torture. This agreement was ratified by Nigeria in July. Furthermore, Nigeria is party to the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which prohibits violence against women and other forms of gender-specific discrimination.

Amina Lawal was helped by lawyers to appeal against her sentence in July 2002. However, this appeal was rejected on 19 August by the Sharia court in Funua. A further hearing of the case by the Appeal Court of the Nigerian State of Katsina was postponed several times. On 24 September 2003 the court finally quashed the sentence against Amina on the grounds that she was not given "ample opportunity to defend herself" during the original hearing. In addition, according to the federal court, a number of procedural errors were made during the first hearing, and the adultery was not proven beyond all doubt.

Amnesty International welcomes the reversal of the judgement against Amina Lawal. Nonetheless, serious breaches of international human rights standards had been previously observed when Sharia principles were applied. Therefore, the introduction of Sharia law into some Nigerian states remains a major cause of concern and we will continue to observe the situation closely and critically.