UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Amina Lawal-To Sign or Not to Sign

by Rita Arditti

Amina Lawal is a poor Muslim woman in her early thirties, sentenced to death by stoning in March 2002 by a lower Sharia court, in the Katsina state of northern Nigeria, allegedly because of adultery. Married at age 14, she was divorced and at a later stage she became pregnant and had a baby daughter. Currently in some states of northern Nigeria, new Sharia-based penal codes, which apply only to Muslims, have been introduced. According to these laws pregnancy out of marriage amounts to adultery. The man supposedly responsible for the pregnancy denied having sex with Amina and charges against him were dropped. For him to be prosecuted he must confess or 4 other men must testify that they witnessed the adultery.

Until recently, Muslim laws in Nigeria were not enacted as written statutes but in 1999 some states starting passing a series of new Sharia Acts. Ayesha Imam, Founding director of BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights in Nigeria and a leading scholar and activist of women’s legal rights in Africa for over twenty years, has this to say about these laws:

“The politics of the situations in which these new Acts were passed has had the unfortunate consequence of serious shortcomings in their drafting, content and implementation. Even more unfortunately, those politics have also produced claims that the new Sharia acts of 1999-2002 incorporate perfectly a universal God-given code, and that to raise any issues of possible defects (and therefore the possibility of removing those defects) is unIslamic, anti-Sharia and tantamount to apostacy-in short a politics of intimidation and threat. However, the falsity of allegations like these is clear, when examining the nature of Muslim laws.”1

On August 27 a hearing of Ms Lawal’s case took place at the Sharia Court of Appeal in Katsina, under tight security, and the results of the appeal will be determined on September 25, 2003. Her case has attracted considerable international attention and petitions to the President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, and the Minister of Justice, Kanu Godwin Agabi, have been circulated and gathered millions of signatures asking that the death penalty be suspended. I have signed several of these petitions in the past and have encouraged others to do so. At a recent seminar that I led on Women and Human Rights, we closed the seminar by lining up at the computer to sign a petition on behalf of Amina Lawal. I have recently found, though, and much to my chagrin, that I have been misinformed about the possible effects of these petitions. The situation of Amina Lawal and the best strategy to save her life have not been presented and discussed in their full complexity by some of the organizations circulating the petitions.

BAOBAB/WLUML2-AME Legal Defence Fund (supports the immediate costs, victims and appeals process); Donations should be sent to: BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights, 1333A North Avenue, New Rochelle, NY 10804, USA


1 From Ayesha Imam’s acceptance speech of the John Humphrey Freedom Award to her and BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights on December 9, 2002. Go to www.hrea.org, and write “Ayesha Imam” in the Search box for the complete text.

2 WLUML stands for Women Living Under Muslim Laws, an international solidarity network. For more information go to their webpage:www.wluml.org