Today, September 25, 2003, the Katsina State Sharia Court of Appeal has vindicated Ms. Amina Lawal’s appeal against her conviction for adultery and sentence of stoning to death. A four to one majority of the full five judge panel upheld every single one of the grounds of the appeal.
The Sharia court held that pregnancy outside of marriage is not proof of adultery, that Ms. Lawal’s alleged confession was no confession in law, and, that her rights of defence had not been properly recognised in the lower courts.
This sweeping judgement of the state Sharia Court of Appeal thus indicates that Ms. Lawal should not have been charged, much less convicted. Ms. Lawal is now free to continue with her life, after eighteen months of appeals supported by a coalition of Nigerian women’s and human rights groups.
Added to the other appeals that have also been won, a judgement of this scope offers strong support for the several other cases still in the appeal process. More generally, it has demonstrated that victims of rights abuses in sharia can successfully fight appeals in the sharia courts, which therefore strengthens the local cultures of respect for rights and resistance of potential abuses. The widespread attention given to this case means the judgement should also deter similar charges from being brought in the future.
The non-profit organization, BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights, expressed thanks to “all those who aided this appeal by: sharing lessons of experiences and legal argumentation; donating resources in kind or cash; and, making the effort to understand and support our strategy and the nuances of working on rights in the context of Nigeria’s religious and ethnic identity politics.” (OTP add its thanks to all who supported this appeal.)