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Nigerian Court Overturns Stoning Sentence in Adultery Case - 2003-09-25

A Nigerian woman sentenced to death by stoning for having a child out of wedlock has won her appeal against conviction in a high-profile test case for the strict Islamic laws adopted in the north of the country.

The 31-year-old village woman, Amina Lawal, needed two appeals and the help of national women's groups to overturn the decision of the Islamic Sharia courts.

In March 2002, Ms. Lawal was found guilty of adultery, after giving birth to her daughter Wasila, two years after she was divorced from her husband.

The case attracted international attention to the northern Nigerian town of Katsina. Human rights groups condemned the verdict and, in particular, the punishment, which was to have been death by stoning.

According to the Islamic code, Ms. Lawal was to have been buried in sand up to her neck, and had stones thrown at her head until she was dead.

The guilty verdict was overturned after Ms. Lawal's defense attorneys highlighted their client's incomprehension of the charges when they were first laid against her, and procedural errors in the ruling process.

Ms. Lawal's case has been the highest-profile case before the new religious courts. Nigeria, a federal republic, has differing laws in each state. Reflecting the religious differences in the country, 12 of the northern Muslim states have adopted strict Islamic, or Sharia, law since Nigeria's return to civilian rule in 1999.