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Nigerian Islamic Courts Hand Down More Execution Sentences

Islamic courts in northern Nigeria handed down more execution sentences this week. The latest was announced in the country's Niger state.

Officials in Nigeria's Niger state said Ahmadu Ibrahim and Fatima Usman, both in their 30s, were sentenced for adultery after they confessed to having sexual relations while Ms. Usman was married to another man. In the course of the extra-marital relationship, Ms. Usman became pregnant.

A lower Sharia court had previously sentenced the two to serve time in prison. They appealed their sentences. In deciding their appeals this week, the Islamic court determined the earlier sentence was not harsh enough and sentenced them both to death by stoning.

Mr. Ibrahim and Ms. Usman are the latest on a growing list of people who have been sentenced to death by Sharia courts in northern Nigeria, where Niger and 11 other states have reintroduced the Islamic code during the past two years.

This week, a man was sentenced to death in Jigawa state after he confessed to raping a nine-year-old girl. Earlier this month, an Islamic appeals court in Katsina state upheld a death sentence against Amina Lawal, a woman convicted of adultery for bearing a child out of wedlock. Thus far, none of the stoning sentences has been carried out.

Sharia is not recognized by Nigeria's secular judicial system and the central government of President Olusegun Obasanjo has repeatedly condemned its implementation, calling it unconstitutional.

But many in Nigeria, including women's groups, say the government has not done enough to stop its enforcement.

Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi is the National Coordinator for a Lagos-based group Women Advocates Research Center, which has led a battle to stop Sharia executions. She tells VOA she believes the growing number of sentences is a sign the government needs to take a more aggressive stance. "The government has been very lukewarm on this issue," she said. "You have to accept this issue whether you like it or not because it is going to become a very problematic matter. There must be a universal standard. Even if we are saying that Sharia should exist in this country, it must be able to pass through the universal standard of human rights and there must be a minimum standard to check our laws."

The reintroduction of Sharia in the north has been one of the main challenges facing President Obasanjo, whose election in 1999 marked the end of nearly 16 years of military rule in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country.

Thousands have been killed in clashes that have broken out between Muslims and Christians since the Islamic code was first implemented, shortly after the transition to civilian rule.

Mr. Obasanjo, a Christian, plans to seek re-election next year. In the meantime, he is faced with the task of avoiding further outbreaks of violence while ensuring that the country's secular laws are enforced.