Woman spared stoning says trial boosted her Islamic belief

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

ABUJA, Nigeria -- Spared death by stoning for adultery, 32-year-old Amina Lawal told The Associated Press on Tuesday she hopes to return to her Muslim village in northern Nigeria and remarry.

"Whoever God chooses to be my husband will be all right with me," said the divorced, single mother in her first extended comments since an Islamic appeals court granted her clemency from her death sentence for bearing a child out of wedlock. "Everything is within the knowledge of God."

Lawal, who can neither read nor write, cradled her nearly 2-year-old daughter and repeatedly drew a red scarf across her face as she spoke. Despite her ordeal, she said, she retained faith in Islamic law, or Shariah.

"The trial did not affect my faith in Islam, because I know that Shariah makes room for fair trial," said Lawal, her head draped in another red scarf and body covered in the bright wax-print cloth favored by women in northern Nigeria.

"It is a fair procedure, and so I was never afraid throughout my trial," Lawal insisted, even though she frequently burst into tears during the months of hearings following her death sentence in March 2002.

Lawal, who describes herself as a committed Muslim, would have been the first person stoned to death since a dozen states in northern Nigeria adopted Islamic law in 1999.

A panel of five judges in white turbans and black robes ruled 4-1 for clemency last Thursday in the heavily politicized case, citing procedural errors and arguing Lawal was not given "ample opportunity to defend herself."

Headed home

While she has remained in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, since then, Lawal told AP she hopes to return to her Muslim community in northern Katsina state and remarry.

"I believe everything will be fine," said Lawal, who during her trial had spoken out only to urge international rights groups not to interfere with the Islamic courts.

An Islamic court convicted Lawal following the birth of her daughter two years after she divorced her husband. Judges rejected Lawal's first appeal five months later; the man alleged to be the father of the child denied responsibility and was spared.

Prosecutors, who argued Lawal's child was living proof she committed adultery, have indicated they do not intend to pursue the case, which sharpened the divide between the largely Muslim north and heavily Christian south in Africa's most populous nation.

Lawal, gaunt and pale during an interview last year, appeared to have put on some weight and seemed relaxed Tuesday. Her daughter slept in her lap as she spoke, then awoke, smiled and played with Lawal's hands and with visitors.

Lawal's case had drawn criticism from international rights groups and prompted calls for exoneration from President Olusegun Obasanjo's government and world leaders. Brazil offered her asylum.

Critics say Islamic law is being wielded for political ends in northern power clashes with Nigeria's southern-based government, and contended the poor and illiterate face the harshest sentences.

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