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(New York, August 20, 2002) - The August 19 ruling by a Nigerian court of appeal to uphold the verdict of death by stoning of Amina Lawal for adultery is a cruel and inhuman application of Sharia (Islamic) law, Human Rights Watch said today.

The legal system is being used to punish adult women for consensual sex," said LaShawn R. Jefferson, executive director of the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. "The death penalty is never an appropriate punishment for a crime, and, in this instance, the very nature of the crime is in doubt."

In March 2002, a Sharia court in the state of Katsina in northern Nigeria had sentenced 30-year old Amina Lawal to death for having engaged in sex outside marriage. The government used her pregnancy as evidence of her having committed adultery. Ms. Lawal now has an eight-month old child.

Over the past year, some northern Nigerian states have increasingly applied Sharia law to criminal cases, among them theft and adultery. Consequently, Nigerian Sharia courts have ordered amputations as punishment for theft and death penalty by stoning for adultery cases. To date, no stoning sentence has been carried out.

Jefferson urged the Nigerian government to commute the death sentence of Amina Lawal and drop the criminal charges against her.

Human Rights Watch, which opposes capital punishment in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty, also urged Nigeria to end the death penalty and the prosecution of consensual sex between adults.

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