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Nigeria: Court Should Reject Death Penalty

(New York, March 26, 2002) - Human Rights Watch today expressed disappointment at the failure of an appeals court in Sokoto, northern Nigeria to reject the death penalty and the cruelty inherent in a punishment such as death by stoning.

Yesterday, the court commuted the death sentence of Safiya Hussaini Tungar-Tudu, who was sentenced to death by stoning by a Sharia (Islamic) court in October 2001. But the court decision was based on a technicality - that the alleged act of adultery had been committed before Sharia law was imposed in the region - and even as news of the decision was released, reports arose of another woman in northern Nigeria being sentenced to death for adultery.

"We're glad that the life of Safiya Hussaini has been spared," said Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. "But even if this battle has been won, the struggle continues against this kind of cruel punishment. The death penalty is inherently cruel, and death by stoning is a kind of torture that is prohibited by international law."

Human Rights Watch urged government authorities in Nigeria to ensure that other death sentences are also commuted and that courts refrain from sentencing people to cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments.

Several other people have been sentenced to death since Sharia was extended to cover criminal cases in many parts of northern Nigeria. In September 2001, a man accused of sodomy for the rape of a seven-year-old boy was sentenced to death by stoning in Kebbi State. In January 2002, Nigeria saw the first execution under Sharia when a man accused of murder in Katsina was hanged. Sharia courts have also sentenced people to amputations and floggings. Trials have often been characterized by an absence of due process, since judges are poorly trained, and many defendants do not have legal representation.

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