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US Condemns 'Fatwa' Against Woman Journalist in Nigeria - 2002-11-27


The United States is condemning officials in the northern Nigerian state of Zamfara, who reportedly issued a Muslim death decree or "fatwa" against a woman journalist who wrote a report on the Miss World beauty pageant seen as insulting to Islam. U.S. officials are calling Nigerian authorities to put an end to the religious violence stemming from the controversy.

Officials here have monitored the nearly two weeks of religious unrest in Nigeria with dismay, and U.S. concerns about the situation have been sharpened by the move Tuesday by the leaders of the mainly-Muslim Zamfara state endorsing a death decree against journalist Isioma Daniel.

An article by Ms. Daniel for the Lagos-based newspaper This Day about the Miss World controversy was taken by some readers as an affront to Islam, and has been cited as the spark for days of clashes involving Muslims and Christians in the state of Kaduna and elsewhere that have left more than 200 people dead.

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker again urged Nigerian authorities to end the violence, while condemning in strong terms the threat to Ms. Daniel from the officials in Zamfara.

"Any sort of advocating of an extra-judicial killing in the name of religion is an absolutely irresponsible position for an elected official to take. It contravenes human decency as well as international human rights norms, and the rule of law. The loss of human life and property surrounding the story that appeared in this publication November 16 has been tragic for all Nigerians, for Muslims and for Christians alike. The government of Nigeria and its elected officials have a responsibility to stop the violence and discourage further retribution, which is happening in violation of Nigerian laws," Mr. Reeker said.

Mr. Reeker said the Nigerian constitution provides for freedom of religion as well as freedom of the press, but said the latter cannot exist in an environment where journalists or editors are harassed or threatened for what appears in their publications.

He said the Nigerian government, at all appropriate levels, must insure that journalists have the safety and ability to work freely.

The Nigerian central government has dismissed the "fatwa" against Ms. Daniel from Zamfara as unconstitutional and has said it will not allow the death decree to be carried out.

The threatened journalist is said to have fled Nigeria, though spokesman Reeker said he could not confirm reports she is now in the United States.

The Miss World pageant was to have been held in the Nigerian capital Abuja December seventh, but in light of the violence organizers decided last week to move the event to London.

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