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Criticism Mounts over Nigeria Death Sentence for Adultery - 2002-08-21

International criticism is growing, following a decision by an Islamic court in northern Nigeria to uphold the death sentence of a 31-year-old woman convicted of adultery. But the ruling is being praised by Islamists who have been pushing for implementation of the Islamic code, Sharia, in neighboring Niger.

Criticism of the Nigerian Islamic court's decision to allow the stoning death of Amina Lawal has ranged from angry condemnations by human rights and women's groups to expressions of concern by governments, including those of the United States, France and Sweden, and the European Union.

Amina Lawal was sentenced to death in March for giving birth to a child out of wedlock, an action considered adultery under the Islamic code. Sharia has been implemented in 12 of Nigeria's mostly-Muslim northern states during the past two years.

Ms. Lawal's attorneys say they plan to appeal the verdict in a higher Nigerian court.

An aide to Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, whose government has fought the implementation of Sharia, criticized the decision against Ms. Lawal. The aide said implementation of the Islamic code had resulted in prejudice against women.

In neighboring Niger, Islamic organizations expressed approval of the Nigerian Islamic court's decision in the Amina Lawal case. Niger's government has traditionally fought efforts by Islamic groups to impose Sharia.

The head of Niger's largest Muslim association, Issoufou Bacharsaid, said he hopes the sentencing of Amina Lawal will prevent other women from committing adultery. He said he believes sentences like the one upheld by the Islamic court in Nigeria are necessary to protect the moral values of society.

Niger's population is more than 80 percent Muslim. But the government insists it is purely secular and has maintained surveillance over leaders of Islamist movements.

Two Islamic activists have been in jail for several weeks, after addressing a letter to Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja, advocating the implementation of Sharia in the country.

Although the topic of Sharia is not often discussed openly in Niger, human rights advocates in the country have firmly opposed any effort to implement the code. Some expressed concern that Islamists were making headway in 1999, when verses of the Koran were read at the inauguration of President Tandja.