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Woman awaits stoning appeal

From Jeff Koinange

Amina Lawal, shown with her son, is waiting to hear from an appeals court whether her life will be spared.
Amina Lawal, shown with her son, is waiting to hear from an appeals court whether her life will be spared.

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A Nigerian mom faces death by stoning for having a child out of wedlock.
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KATSINA, Nigeria (CNN) -- Amina Lawal will learn Thursday whether a regional court will spare her the sentence of being buried up to her head in sand and stoned to death.

The 31-year-old woman was sentenced to death by stoning two years ago for having a child out of wedlock. Her sentence was delayed until she could wean her baby, Wassila.

The decision will mark the fifth appeal for Lawal, a single, illiterate mother of three.

The Shariah Court of Appeal in Katsina is to announce its verdict sometime Thursday. If the death sentence is upheld, Lawal has two more chances to appeal -- to a federal appeals court and to the Supreme Court.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has said that if Lawal's case reaches the Supreme Court, he will make sure it is overturned.

Unlike the local court of appeal, the Supreme Court is not based on Shariah, an Islamic code of conduct based loosely on the teachings in the Quran, the Islamic holy book. Shariah is practiced in 12 of Nigeria's 36 states.

Lawal was convicted and sentenced in March 2002 after giving birth to a baby girl more than nine months after divorcing. Under the strict Shariah law, pregnancy outside marriage constitutes sufficient evidence for a woman to be convicted of adultery.

A court stayed her execution for two years to allow her to care for her baby.

"This is all I have to live for right now," Lawal said. "My child means everything to me."

Human rights groups around the world have protested the sentence and drawn attention to her plight. A group of women representing the African National Congress plans to head to Katsina for Thursday's verdict, and they expect heavy protests.

Lawal lives with her father, his two wives and their numerous children in the tiny village of Kurami, deep in Nigeria's Islamic north. The village is so small that it does not appear on a map.

Lawal insists she did nothing wrong and that the man who fathered her child made a promise to marry her. He didn't, leaving her pregnant and with no support.

The man said he was not the father, and three male witnesses testified he did not have a sexual relationship with Lawal. The witnesses constituted adequate corroboration of his story under Shariah law, and he was let free.

Lawal's lawyer, who has worked on her appeal for the past two years, suggests his client's best hope may be divine intervention.

"She has, like, resigned her fate to God," Ibrahim told CNN, "and if you speak with her she'll always tell you she believes in God, God allows things to happen, and she believes he will not allow her to die."

Ibrahim argues that, even if Shariah law applies, it went into effect in the state after Lawal became pregnant.

"We look forward to having the judges understand our argument," Ibrahim told CNN, "and for them doing justice just as they are meant to do."

Lawal's defense team told CNN that had it not been for the efforts of human rights groups, who sent around mass e-mails about the case and sent representatives to her hearings, their client would have been stoned a long time ago.

Lawal is the second woman to be sentenced to death after bearing a child out of marriage since 2000, when more than a dozen states in the predominantly Islamic northern Nigeria adopted strict Islamic Shariah law.

In March 2002, an appeals court reversed a similar sentence on Safiya Hussaini Tungar-Tudu after worldwide pleas for clemency and a warning from Obasanjo that Nigeria faced international isolation over the case.

The adoption of Sharia, which punishes theft with the amputation of hands, has stoked violence between Muslims and Christians in Africa's most populous state. More than 3,000 people have been killed.

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