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Group Criticizes Islamic Law in Nigeria Citing Discriminatory Practices

Sharia (Islamic) courts in northern Nigeria impose discriminatory and harsh sentences and have failed to respect due process rights, according to a report just released by Human Rights Watch (HRW). The report documents that at least ten people have been sentenced to death and dozens sentenced to amputation and floggings since Sharia (Islamic) law was reintroduced in Nigeria in January 2000.

According to HRW spokeswoman Carina Tertsakian, “women have been and still are discriminated against both in legislation, but also in practice.” Ms. Tertsakian said that this is especially apparent “in cases of adultery or extramarital sex where the standards of evidence are different for men and women…if a woman is pregnant that is considered sufficient evidence to convict her of adultery. Whereas for the man, they need to have four independent eyewitnesses to the act, which you can imagine is practically impossible.” In addition, there are no female judges in the Sharia courts and judges have often punished women who claim they are victims of rape.

The report cites restrictions that have been placed on women’s daily lives reminiscent of Taliban restrictions on Afghan women including their freedoms of movement, dress, and right to associate with others. According to HRW, some state governments have introduced measures not codified in law to limit women’s freedom of movement and association. For example, in some states measures were implemented preventing men and women from being seen together in public. The hisbah, a group given responsibilityp to make sure Sharia law has been enforced, were found to pull women out of taxis if the driver is male. There were even cases of drivers being flogged for carrying female passengers. By 2003, HRW reports that these measures have been enforced less stringently, however, there are still cases of taxi drivers refusing to carry females in the Zamfara State.

In most states it is the hisbah that are making sure that the women are dressing “appropriately.” However, in the Zamfara State, it is the state government itself that passed a law in 2001 prohibiting “indecent dressing in public” and “the association in public of two or more persons of opposite sexes.” The law states that “every female of Islamic faith, shall put on dress to cover her entire body except for her feet, hand, and face in the public.”

Sharia law has been introduced in twelve states in northern Nigeria. Last year a woman, Amina Lawal, was sentenced to death by stoning for having sex out of wedlock. Following an outcry from women around the world her case was then overturned in September 2003.

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Media Resources: Human Rights Watch 9/21/04; Voice of America 9/21/04; Feminist Daily News Wire 9/25/04

© Feminist Majority Foundation, publisher of Ms. magazine

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