Stoning to death, in the 21st Century

A Nigerian woman stands accused of adultery and could be sentenced to death by stoning unless a Sharia court grants a decree of clemency next week.

The story of Safiya has touched the world. 35 years old, illiterate, the mother of five children, she was forced into an arranged marriage at the age of 12. Her crime was to have a daughter by her ex-husband after they were divorced. The penalty, death by stoning.

Safiya Hussaini Tungar-Tudu was sentenced to death by stoning by a Sharia (Islamic Law) court in October, 1991, for adultery. At first she claimed that she had been raped by her cousin, but it then transpired that she had had sexual relations with her ex-husband. She was unfortunate enough to become pregnant.

The Sharia was reintroduced in 2000 in the northern state of Sokoto and it is vigorously imposed in eleven other states in northern Nigeria. Along with castration, flagellation and mutilation for other crimes, stoning to death is still practised on women who have committed adultery.

The world has taken up Safiya’s cause. 77 Members of the European parliament have signed a petition, and are applying pressure on the country’s Christian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, to revoke the sentence. President Obasanjo has always said he hoped for a happy ending for the case, without declaring himself openly in favour of any option.

The 15 heads of State at the Barcelona Summit last weekend issued a joint declaration requesting the Nigerian government to save the life of Safiya, while Amnesty international have launched a “Save Safiya” campaign. 420,000 signatures have been handed in to the Nigerian Embassy in Spain. The city of Naples has declared Safiya an Honorary Citizen. In Warsaw, a hundred people demonstrated in front of the Nigerian Embassy.

Safiya’s case is to have its final hearing in one week’s time. All peaceful and reasonable efforts to apply pressure to the Nigerian authorities through their Embassies and Consulates around the world will apply pressure on the government of Nigeria to take action to save this life.

The last word in this story goes to Safiya herself, who told journalists in her native Hausa: “I thank all of those who have supported me. I hope that everyone ends up happy”, she said, clutching her baby daughter, who sealed her death sentence, to her breast.

Even though Safiya is far from safe, we never hear the stories about other women in Africa who are subjected to death or mutilation in the application of outdated laws which do not belong to this time. If the world takes a stand against international terrorism as being an outrage, then death by stoning for bearing a child is an atrocity equal in its sheer injustice.


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