BBC, Aug. 23, 2002
Nigeria’s justice minister has condemned the decision of an Islamic court that a woman be stoned to death for adultery.
Amina Lawal – the divorced woman who conceived a child outside marriage – lost her appeal against the sentence on Monday, sparking international criticism.
The government now says it will assist Amina’s lawyers with subsequent appeals, in a case that could ultimately end up in the country’s supreme court.
The BBC’s Dan Isaacs in Lagos says that a confrontation between supporters and opponents of strict Sharia laws now looks almost certain, raising fears of increased tension between the country’s Christians and Muslims.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to reduce long-standing religious tensions, Christian and Muslim leaders in Kaduna State have signed a declaration of peace between the two communities.
The agreement calls on members of both faiths to ensure that neither religion promotes or encourages violence.
More than 2,000 people were killed in religious violence in the region two years ago, when the state re-introduced Sharia law.
Justice Minister Kanu Agabi’s statement is the first clear statement of the government’s position on the case of Amina Lawal.
Our correspondent says that he has been reticent to speak out publicly for fear of creating political waves.
But in response to a question from an Associated Press reporter on Thursday, Mr Agabi finally expressed a forthright opinion and set the tone of the debate for the next few months.
This sets the federal government in direct opposition to the Muslim northern states, which have over the past two years adopted the strict Islamic punishments of stoning, amputation for theft and flogging for lesser crimes such as the drinking of alcohol.
The justice minister had earlier said that such punishments contravene the federal constitution, because they discriminate unfairly against Muslims.