The death sentence appeal of a Nigerian Muslim woman charged with adultery has been postponed until Aug. 27.
Amina Lawal was sentenced March 2002 by a Sharia court in Katsina State in northern Nigeria. Ms. Lawal appealed the sentence and her recent appeal hearing, scheduled for June 3, was postponed because two of the judges were unavailable.
The controversial case has received international attention, partly because of the way the death penalty would be carried out–she would be buried up to her neck in sand and stoned to death. The original sentence was immediately postponed until she weaned her baby, Wasila, who is now two.
Ms. Lawal, 31, allegedly confessed to having a child out of wedlock. That confession alone was enough evidence to convict her of adultery, according to the new Sharia laws in the Islamic northern region of Nigeria. The southern region of the country is Christian.
At the time of her confession, she identified the father of her child, but he denied the relationship.
Ms. Lawal is represented by Aliyu Musa Yauri and Hauwa Ibrahim, the first female lawyer from the Northern states in Nigeria. Ms. Ibrahim represents nine other pro bono cases of women accused of adultery. Some of these women have also been sentenced to death by stoning; others have been sentenced to flogging.
In an interview with Frontline/World, Mrs. Ibrahim explained why she took another stoning case.
“I do feel uncomfortable, at times fearful … . When it comes to the issue of death, the moment you stone the first woman, there may be no stopping of it. And I cannot live with that. Because of that, I fight it. I fight my fear,” she said.
Ms. Ibrahim, who grew up poor and under very difficult circumstances, feels a bond with these women.
“It’s somebody’s life, so let me also put my own on the line. In terms of my skills, my knowledge and the fact that I can relate to them: Almost all those women … are from a very poor background, the same background that I came from. I feel that I’m returning back to humanity what I was given in terms of education and skills. I’m just returning it back to the system.”
The case has attracted worldwide attention, including Amnesty International, French Lawyers Without Borders and a segment on the Oprah Show, where Oprah Winfrey asked viewers to email their opposition to Ms. Lawal’s sentence to the Nigerian officials at the UN and their embassy in Washington, D.C. She wanted one million emails and 1.5 million people responded.
Observers say it is this mounting pressure that caused the case to be postponed. Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian, has requested that Ms. Lawal be freed, but that edict has little, if any, weight in the strict Islamic north, where officials insist that the case go through the judicial process.
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has spoken out on behalf of Ms. Lawal and said he will do everything he can to spare Ms. Lawal of the death penalty.
After Ms. Lawal learned that her appeal had been postponed, she told the Associated Press, “I’m anxious. Only God knows when this will be over.”
–Nisa Islam Muhammad