Nigeria overturns stoning sentence

DASS, Nigeria (Reuters) – A Nigerian Islamic appeal court has freed a pregnant woman sentenced to be stoned to death for having sex out of wedlock.

Judge Mohammed Mustapha Umar said the conviction of 29-year-old Hajara Ibrahim by the Lere lower court was unsound and set the woman free.

“Thank God it is all over now. I wish myself a safe delivery,” said a six-month pregnant Ibrahim, wearing a light blue Islamic robe and headscarf.

The lower court had sentenced her to 100 lashes and death by stoning after she confessed to having unlawful sex with a 35-year-old man, Dauda Sani. She became pregnant but Sani was released for lack of evidence.

The appeal judge annulled the conviction on the grounds it was incorrect to deliver the two sentences for the crime; the confession was void because it was not made four times; Ibrahim was not given the chance to defend herself; and the investigation was not properly carried out.

“The court has therefore set Hajara free of all charges,” Umar said.

Nobody has been lawfully stoned to death for sex offences in Nigeria in the four years since 12 northern states introduced Islamic sharia law. Nine such sentences have been overturned on appeal and a tenth appeal is due to be heard on December 2.

The introduction of sharia in northern Nigeria has polarised religions in Africa’s most populous nation, whose 130 million inhabitants are roughly equally divided between Muslims and Christians.

Islamic clerics are pushing for a more complete implementation of sharia law in some northern states, including a total ban on alcohol, in the face of bitter opposition from non-Muslim minorities.

Sporadic religious rioting in Kano and Kaduna states has also alienated the two communities, forcing many Christians to leave northern Nigeria or driving them into Christian ghettos.

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