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Nigerians Unaware of Stoning Decree

October 8, 2002

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NEW GAWU, Nigeria (AP) _ Two Nigerians, one a woman eight months pregnant, have still not been told that a court has sentenced them to death by stoning for having sex outside marriage, their lawyer said Tuesday.

Ahmadu Ibrahim, 35, and Fatima Usman, 32, are being held in a federal jail and were not freed to attend the court hearing in August that sentenced them to death, said lawyer Hauwa Ibrahim. The couple were sentenced under Islamic law, or shariah, which allows amputations for theft or death by stoning for adultery.

Prison officials will only allow family and lawyers to see the couple on the condition that they do not tell them of the death sentence, Ibrahim said. Officials did not explain why the couple could not be told, she added.

Usman, the woman, is being kept in a cramped, unventilated room, her father Umaru Usman told reporters.

``She’s not aware that she’s going to be stoned to death,″ he said through a translator.

``She was not looking very good,″ said Ibrahim, who met Usman in jail last week. ``For now our concentration is to get them, especially the lady, out.″

A bail hearing for the couple was canceled Tuesday when the judge failed to appear, saying in a message to the court that he was attending a naming ceremony for his newborn daughter. The Upper Shariah Court in the central town of New Gawu rescheduled the hearing for Oct. 22.

Prison officials refused to release the couple to attend Tuesday’s hearing.

The couple were sentenced a week after another Islamic court rejected single mother Amina Lawal’s appeal of a stoning sentence for having sex outside of marriage.

Lawal’s case provoked an international outcry. Governments and human rights groups around the world have urged President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration to intercede.

The two former lovers were charged and prosecuted by federal police despite Obasanjo’s previous objections to shariah. He has condemned strict shariah punishments as unconstitutional.

The woman’s father, Umaru Usman, played a central role in the former lovers’ predicament.

He first brought their affair to the attention of police when he tried to sue his daughter’s lover for $1,200 in child support after she gave birth to Ibrahim’s child while married to another man, court officials said.

His failed suit triggered a police investigation that led to the couple being sentenced to five years in prison because they couldn’t pay a fine of $120 each.

His attempts to persuade court officials to reduce the sentence by forcing a review backfired. Shariah court officials ruled that both be stoned to death.

``All I want is a fair hearing,″ Usman said. ``If this continues...I will lose my daughter, I will lose everything.″

Ibrahim is the first man to be sentenced to death for adultery in Nigeria. Previously only women were prosecuted and their children used as evidence while men escaped punishment because of lack of proof.

Usman was the third Nigerian woman condemned to death under Islamic law for having sex out of wedlock. The first, Safiya Hussaini, had her sentence overturned in March on appeal.

Nigeria is deeply divided about the application of shariah.

Decisions by a dozen states in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north to adopt the Islamic code since 1999 sparked clashes with the region’s Christian minority that have killed thousands.

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