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Nigeria Islamic Court Delays Death-by-Stoning Verdict - 2002-03-18

An Islamic court in Nigeria's northern Sokoto state has postponed a ruling in the case of Safiya Husseini, a woman who was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.

The court heard arguments from attorneys representing the 35-year-old woman, before adjourning the case to March 25.

Safiya Husseini was condemned to death by stoning last October. Her crime under Islamic Sharia law, is that she committed adultery by giving birth to a child years after becoming divorced. She was present in a crowded courtroom Monday, holding her child who turned one year old last month.

Her attorneys on Monday attacked the case presented by prosecutors last October, saying it was deeply flawed. They said that, among other things, the woman was convicted of an offense that happened before the Islamic law came into effect in Sokoto state.

The court adjourned, with the judges saying they will take time to reflect on the arguments presented by Ms. Husseini's attorneys.

Ms. Husseini had earlier said the child was conceived when she was raped by a neighbor. Later, at a hearing in January, her attorney said the woman, who is illiterate, had misunderstood the questions posed by her interrogators. He said Ms. Husseini became pregnant by having sexual relations with her former husband. That being the case, her actions would not be considered adultery under Sharia law.

Ms. Husseini's attorneys say they expect the court to reverse the conviction. If she loses her appeal, she can take her case to Nigeria's supreme court.

Her case has drawn a wave of protests from the international community, including human rights and women's groups.

On Saturday, members of the European Union summit in Spain called for clemency for the Nigerian woman.

The adoption of Sharia in 12 states has created friction between Nigeria's predominantly Muslim northern states and the officially secular federal government, which opposes the imposition of the Islamic code. It has also strained relations between Christians and Muslims. On several occasions in the two years since Sharia has been implemented, tensions have erupted into ethnic and religious fighting, resulting in the death of thousands.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian, has publicly opposed the sentencing of Safiya Husseini, saying he hopes it will not be carried out.