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An urgent plea: Help stop stoning of Nigerian woman

A Nigerian woman who became pregnant outside of marriage is set for execution in the coming weeks. She was sentenced to death last October and has had one stay of execution to allow her to nurse her infant for a longer period.

“They will dig a pit, then they will put the convict in in a way that she will not be able to escape, and then she will be stoned,” says Aliyu Abubaker Sanyinna, the attorney general in Nigeria’s Sokoto state where the woman is from. “Another way is that she could be tied up against a tree or a pillar.”

Safiya Husseini, 30, claims she was raped. The man who caused her to become pregnant has fled, according to news reports.

While Husseini’s case is considered extreme, the concerns it raises for women in Nigeria are by no means unique. Last year a teenage single mother, who claimed she became pregnant after she was raped by three men, was given 100 lashes in public and then forced to marry one of several men who had presented themselves to her. The courts said she was 17. Her parents said she was 14.

“The situation here is very fragile, particularly for women who are living alone or with their children,” said a representative of a Nigerian women’s rights organization. “There are moral police who are going around looking for infractions, and women living alone are upset because nobody knows who is watching you or what they might say about you.”

Nine of Nigeria’s 36 states are said to operate under Sharia, Islamic law.

International rights groups campaigning for Husseini are not opposing the right of Nigerian states to impose Islamic law, which they believe would be a tactical mistake, but are insisting that even within it the Husseini verdict is both flawed and exceptionally harsh. They are asking that letters or e-mails supporting clemency for Husseini be sent to the Nigerian embassy and that requests be made that the federal government take all measures to ensure that Husseini’s right to an appeal be respected and enforced.

Letters and e-mails can be addressed to Ambassador Jibril Muhammad Aminu, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1333 16th Street NW, Washington DC 20036. Telephone: (202) 986-8400. Fax: (202) 775-1385. E-mails can be sent through the embassy’s Web site at http://www.nigeriaembassyusa.org/contact.shtml

National Catholic Reporter, March 29, 2002