Nigeria: Please stop the international Amina Lawal protest letter campaigns – for now

BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights
There has been a whole host of petitions and letter writing campaigns about Amina Lawal (sentenced to stoning to death for adultery in August 2002).
There has been a whole host of petitions and letter writing campaigns about Amina Lawal (sentenced to stoning to death for adultery in August 2002).
Dear friends,

Numerous petitions and letter writing campaigns are circulating to stop the execution of the stoning to death sentence of Amina Lawal, a Nigerian woman convicted of adultery in March 2002. BAOBAB for Women's Human Rights -- which initiated and continues to support the defences of cases like Ms. Lawal's -- thanks all those acting for their support and concern.


Many are based on incorrect information and, given the volatile situation in Nigeria, may damage her case and those of others in similar situations. Campaigns based on inaccurate information are counter-productive and also undermine the credibility of local activists, who are assumed to have supplied this information. Therefore we appeal to you to please check the accuracy of the information with local activists, before circulating petitions or responding to them.

Clarification of Facts

Contrary to information being widely circulated, Amina Lawal's conviction has NOT BEEN upheld by Nigeria's Supreme Court.

Ms. Lawal was originally convicted by an Upper Area Court in Katsina State (Northern Nigeria) and her appeal is currently before the Katsina State Sharia Court of Appeal. Appeal hearings have been postponed several times, however the next date of hearing is June 3, 2003. Should this appeal not succeed, Ms. Lawal still has two further levels of appeal: the Nigerian Federal Sharia Court of Appeal & the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Her sentence cannot be carried out legally unless upheld by the Supreme Court. We assure you the lawyers will go through to the last court of appeal.

In other words, although the stress on Ms. Lawal is obviously considerable and awful, there is no immediate danger of stoning to death. If there is an immediate physical danger to Ms. Lawal and others, it is from vigilante groups within the country and political (over)reaction to international campaigns seen as unwelcome pressure/interference.

An international protest letter campaign is not necessarily the most effective strategy as evident in the case of Bariya Magazu (the unmarried teenager convicted of zina (all manner of extra marital sex)) sentenced to flogging in Zamfara State in 1999. Ms. Magazu's sentence was quite illegally brought forward before her appeal process could start and executed in 2001. The flogging was carried out so hastily that she could not seek any outside assistance.

The sentence was carried out extra-legally to deliberately defy national and international pressure as is evident from the statement of the Governor of Zamfara State boasting of his resistance to "these letters from infidels".

We emphasize that so far, no sentence of stoning to death has been carried out in Nigeria. Either the appeals were successful or those convicted are still in the appeals process. If and when needed, NGOs in Nigeria will approach allies outside the country specifying the action required.

Need to Strengthen Local Activism

Please note that when protest letters reproduce negative stereotypes of Islam and Muslims, they inflame sentiments which can endanger both the victims at the hands of extremists and the activists and lawyers supporting them.

In Nigeria political Islamists and vigilantes threaten (and carry out) acts of violence against those who criticise them - but they have also been promoting the view that any criticism or appeal of conviction is anti-Islam and tantamount to apostasy. One means of countering this is to pursue the appeals in the Sharia system, and demonstrate that people have the right to appeal and to challenge injustices, including those made in the name of Islam.

We would like to emphasize that not all the cases of conviction have made the international headlines or even the national media to become causes célèbres. Baobab and allies have successfully supported a number of people in situations like Amina Lawal's through the court process.

Every successful appeal in the sharia courts strengthens the process of resistance against wrongful convictions and strengthens the due process of law. It is worth underlining that where the appeals process has been allowed to proceed, all those accused have been acquitted. After the case of Bariya Magazu, (where BAOBAB had to convince her family and various opinion-leaders in the village to agree to an appeal), many victims no longer acquiesce to injustices, and are actively seeking help.

In several cases (including that of Amina Lawal), their community members have spoken out against the abuse of Sharia and taken actions to protect those accused from local vigilantes - an important part of mobilising civil society to stop further injustices even when perpetrated in the name of strongly held beliefs.

So how can people and other organisations help?

1. Please check with actual persons concerned and/or with the local groups active in a particular case for facts as well as for current appropriate strategy. In the case of Amina Lawal, please contact BAOBAB for Women's Human Rights. International campaigns should follow the culmination of the appeal process if this is unsuccessful.

2. Currently, appropriate assistance may be in the following forms:

Women's rights activists working on these issues very early on received support from progressive lawyers, Islamic scholars and rights activists from throughout Nigeria, the Muslim world and elsewhere, in the form of legal and religious argumentation (fiqh), case law examples and strategies which were generously shared. We would like to acknowledge this help and support - it has been extremely useful and we can probably never have enough of it.

Experience and strategy-sharing by other groups with similar experience in supporting victims through an appeals process and campaign would also be most welcome.

· Resources (including but not limited to money) to support:

The victims whose lives and work are disrupted, and who need financial assistance as well as counselling, medical treatments, drugs etc.. A safe house in the face of threats from vigilantes - there are no institutional ones in northern Nigeria.

Costs in fighting the appeals. These include court fees and lawyers fees. (Not all lawyers are willing or able to work pro bono. Even those who donate their expertise may need expenses covered for court appearances, travel etc.). Similarly activists supporting the case may need expenses to be covered There are also costs of preparing documents especially in multiple copies and other associated costs.

Please do circulate this message widely - including to all the list-servs and networks where petitions based on inaccurate information have been circulated.


Ayesha Imam (Board Member)
Sindi Medar-Gould (Executive Director)
BAOBAB for Women's Human Rights

BAOBAB for Women's Human Rights has been closely involved with defending the rights of women, men and children in Muslim, customary and secular laws - and in particular of those convicted under the new Sharia Criminal legislation acts passed in Nigeria since 2000. In fact, BAOBAB was the first (and for several months the only) NGO with members from the Muslim community, who were willing to speak publicly against retrogressive versions of Muslim laws and to work on changing the dominant conservative understanding of the rights of women in enacted Sharia (Muslim religious laws), as well as in customary and secular laws. BOABAB was also the first, and again for some time the only NGO to actually find the victims and support their appeals, raising funds for the costs and putting together a strategy team of women's and human rights activists, lawyers and Islamic scholars contributing their expertise and time voluntarily. BAOBAB for Women's Human Rights was the 2002 recipient of the John Humphrey Freedom Award for this work. BAOBAB's work was also recently cited by the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women as an example of best practice.

If you would like to support BAOBAB for Women's Human Rights work, please send a check/cheque or international money order (preferably in Nigerian Naira, US$ or UK sterling) made out to:

a) BAOBAB / WLUML-AME Legal Defence Fund (supports the immediate costs victims and appeals process); and/or

b) BAOBAB / WLUML-AME Rights Advocacy Fund (supports the long-term work in enabling the critique of the rights in Muslim laws, as in customary and secular laws, and to work on the reconstruction of rights in law and practice); and/or

c) BAOBAB / WLUML-AME Core Funding (enables flexibility in usage - it must still be accounted for and reported on)

These should be sent to:

BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights
PO Box 73630
Victoria Island
Lagos (Nigeria)


BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights
PMB 134,
1333A North Avenue
New Rochelle
NY 10804


BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights
PO Box 28445
London N19 5NZ