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Nigerian Islamic Court Postpones Decision on Woman's Appeal - 2002-01-14

An Islamic court in Nigeria's northern Sokoto state has postponed a decision in the case of a woman who was sentenced to death last year for adultery.

The appeals court in Sokoto state has adjourned the case of Safiya Husseini until March 18. The postponement was announced after lawyers for the 35-year-old woman withdrew their earlier argument in which they had said she had been raped.

Safiya Husseini was convicted in an Islamic court last October in Sokoto, one of several states in northern Nigeria that have adopted the strict Islamic code known as Sharia over the past two years.

As mandated by Sharia in cases of adultery, Ms. Husseini was sentenced to death by stoning. Lawyers for Ms. Husseini took the case to the appeals court, arguing the conviction for adultery should be overturned on the grounds that she had been raped.

Ms. Husseini, who says she was first married at the age of 12, has been divorced three times. Under Sharia, a divorced woman who engages in sexual intercourse and conceives a child without having re-married, commits adultery. The act is punishable by death.

Ms. Husseini gave birth to a baby girl. In convicting her, prosecutors used the birth of the child as evidence that Ms. Husseini had engaged in sexual intercourse at a time when she was not married.

In arguments presented earlier, lawyers said the man she had sexual intercourse with was a friend of her father. In statements Monday, attorneys said the child was the offspring of her last husband. That being the case, the act would not be considered wrongdoing under the Islamic code.

Lawyers on Monday said Ms. Husseini, who is illiterate, did not understand the accusations nor did she comprehend the questions that she was asked during the initial investigation. The postponement is meant to give prosecutors more time to go over the new evidence.

The case has drawn protests from Western governments and human rights groups, which are calling on Nigeria's federal government to step in and annul the death sentence.

For the officially secular government of President Olusegun Obasanjo, the Husseini case has created yet another political dilemma. The Obasanjo government has been trying to ease friction between Muslims who are working to implement Sharia and those who do not want to live under the Islamic code.