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September 16, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 111




Dennis Coday Justice for Amina Lawal

Dennis Coday, NCR staff writer

Did you see the photograph of Amina Lawal in our Sept 12 issue? (Waiting for judgment). If your reaction was the same as everyone in our newsroom, you asked yourself or out loud: Isn't anyone doing something for her? Is there something I can do?

The answer to both questions is yes.

Amina Lawal is a 32-year-old Muslim woman who on 22 March 2002 was sentenced to death by stoning for having a child out of wedlock. The sentence came from a local Sharia court in northern Nigeria. She had allegedly confessed to having had a child while divorced. Under Nigeria's recently imposed Sharia-based penal code, which applies to Muslims only, pregnancy outside of marriage constitutes sufficient evidence for a woman to be convicted of adultery.

Her sentence was suspended until January 2004 to allow Amina Lawal to care for her baby for two years, but she began an appeal. Over the last year, her appeal was postponed several times. She went to court again Aug. 27, when our news photo was taken, and the case was postponed yet again. The appeal hearing is now set for Sept. 25.

The photo we ran (on page 7 of the print edition) showed Lawal sitting all alone in the courtroom, which prompted the question, is anyone helping her. She is being helped. International assistance (financial and legal) is being funneled through Baobab for Women's Human Rights, a Nigerian group that has been closely involved with defending the rights of women, men and children in Muslim, customary and secular laws -- and in particular of those convicted under the Sharia criminal legislation acts passed in Nigeria since 2000.

Here is link -- Baobab for Women's Human Rights -- that will take you to a posting on the Web site of the Presbyterian Church in Canada that is an excellent summary of what Baobab is and how you can help the group help people like Lawal. (The baobab is a tree found throughout Africa and known as a survivor through adverse environmental conditions.)

Amnesty International, working in concert with Baobab, is sponsoring a letter writing campaign. Visit Amnesty's Web site for more information: Nigeria: How Much More Suffering under Sharia Penal Legislation?

If you chose to write a letter, follow Amnesty's directions carefully. Baobab and its international partners had to work double time in May and June to squelch an ill-informed and misdirected letter writing campaign that actually did more harm than good. The Presbyterian site noted above has details on that.

Noteworthy is that Amnesty and Baobab are not asking that Lawal be pardoned. They maintain that Lawal was convicted unjustly. Furthermore, other people face similar trials. Baobab wants Lawal to go through the court system and win her appeals. "Winning appeals in the Sharia courts, as we and others have done, establishes that convictions should not have been made," a Baobab statement says. "A pardon means that people are guilty but the state is forgiving them for it. It does not have the same moral and political resonance."

"If we don't want such abuses to go on and on, then we have to convince the community not to accept injustices even when perpetrated in the name of strongly held beliefs," the statement says.

Dennis Coday is an NCR staff writer and coordinates NCR's Web site. His e-mail address is

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