The Nigerian government promised last week to stop the Islamic courts from carrying out sentences of death by stoning. According to the Associated Press, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dubem Onyia stated, “Nobody will ever be stoned as a result of Sharia (Islamic) law. Nobody.” They also vowed to go against sentences in the northern states that provoke international outcry.
Onyia went on to say that the Nigerian government would not force the Islamic court systems to change their laws, but instead the cases would be overturned on an individual basis. Many human rights campaigners said that though Onyia’s pledge is a step in the right direction, it does not ensure the safety of those accused and those who may be sentenced in the future.
A Northern Nigerian Islamic Court sentenced a single mother, Amina Lawal, to death by stoning for having sex out of wedlock. Lawal is the second Nigerian woman condemned to death by stoning for engaging in sex outside of marriage. The first woman, Safiya Hussaini, had her sentence overturned in March on her first appeal. After giving birth to a child outside of marriage, Lawal was found guilty of sex out of wedlock in October 2001. After a lower Islamic court in the Katsina state rejected Lawal’s appeal to the death by stoning sentence, Lawal’s lawyers plan to appeal her case to a higher Islamic court, possibly the Supreme Court. According to AP, Ahmadu Ibrahim and Fatima Usman, were also sentenced to death by an Islamic Court for committing adultery. They are currently awaiting an appeal.
Sharia law was established in northern Nigeria’s mostly Muslim state Zamfara in 2000 and has spread to at least twelve other states since then. The introduction of Islamic holy law has created tensions between the Christian and Islamic populations there. At least two riots have broken out over the threat of introducing sharia, resulting in the deaths of more that 3,000 thousand people.