Local authorities enforcing newly adopted Islamic laws decree 100 lashes for teen
Ivan Watson / SF Chronicle 23jan01
Bariya Magazu cradled her baby in her arms before she was flogged 100 times. She told authorities that her father had pressured her to have sex with three men, but swore on the Koran that they were innocent. The men were believed and set free.
photo Ivan Watson
Magazu, Nigeria -- Defying pressure from international and domestic groups, Nigerian authorities have flogged a 17-year-old Muslim girl 100 times for having premarital sex, the government said yesterday.
The case has created a furor in Nigeria, where a move to adopt sharia, or Islamic law, has swept the Muslim north. Human rights groups demanded that the sentence be rescinded or at least delayed until the girl, Bariya Magazu, had stopped breast-feeding her baby, out of fear that the girl would be seriously injured or die.
Last week, the Islamic court said it would indefinitely postpone the flogging to allow rights groups to appeal the sentence. But yesterday, officials announced that they had secretly carried out the sentence on Friday.
Government spokesman Bashir Sanda said local authorities wanted to bring an early end to a storm of international controversy created by the court's guilty verdict and sentence in September. The flogging had been delayed to allow Magazu to give birth to her child, which was born Dec. 4.
"The governor felt he ought to act immediately to put the matter to rest," Bashir said.
Last week, as she braced herself for the flogging, Magazu crouched barefoot on the dirt floor of her father's house in northern Nigeria, cradling her crying child.
Hiding her face in a long shawl and speaking in barely audible monosyllables, she said she accepted the decision of the local Islamic court, but she admitted that she was afraid of being caned.
Magazu had no lawyer when she appeared with her family in the cramped sharia courthouse outside her village. Since she was unmarried, Magazu's pregnancy immediately proved that the teenager had broken the strict Muslim legal code known as sharia. She named three village men as her lovers and said one was the father of her child; later she said her father had pressured her to have sex with the men.
All three men held the Koran that hangs in a ceremonial bag on the peeling wall of the courtroom and swore that they were innocent.
They were freed, but Judge Idris Usman Gusau sentenced Magazu to 100 lashes and doled out an additional sentence of 80 lashes for what he called Magazu's "false accusations" against the three men. Later, Muhammud Tukur Anka, the chief judicial registrar of Zamfara state, conceded that somewhere in Magazu's rural village, a man who was guilty of adultery and is the father of Magazu's child is walking free. He said no investigation was under way. And late last week, he dropped the 80 lashes he had imposed for false charges.
Lawyers for a Nigerian women's rights group, Baobab, had been preparing an appeal of the sentence, and another group, the Nigeria Network of Non- Governmental Organizations, had planned a mass protest in the commercial capital, Lagos.
International criticism of the flogging sentence has been led by Canada. Ian Ferguson, Canada's High Commissioner to Nigeria, had asked Nigeria's foreign ministry to intercede in what the Canadian government called "an appalling case."
Ferguson and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International charged that the flogging would break the U.N. Convention Against Torture, the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Covenant for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.
Anka shrugged off the foreign allegations of human rights abuses: "We don't mind about human rights. We are following the rule of Allah," he said. "Therefore we don't care whatever the people are saying."
But sharia is very controversial in Nigeria. It has exacerbated existing divisions between the Muslim north and Nigeria's largely Christian southern half. Last February, the proposed introduction of sharia in the northern city of Kaduna triggered riots between Christians and Muslims that left thousands dead.
The debate over sharia also prompted friction between the northern state governors and the federal government based in the Nigerian capital of Abuja. Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo, a born-again Christian from southern Nigeria, has said some aspects of sharia may be unconstitutional, but he seems to have mixed feelings on flogging: Last October, when a presidential security guard began whipping a young child in an unruly crowd, an enraged Obasanjo snatched the cane from the guard and caned the officer several times.
So far, Obasanjo has avoided direct confrontation
with the Islamists .
Sharia Sweeping Through Northern Nigeria Almost a year ago, Zamfara was the first of Nigeria's 36 states to formally implement sharia. Alcohol, prostitution, gambling and co-ed public transport were banned. Crime rates dropped dramatically.
The government authorized several Sharia Implementation Monitoring Committees with the power to arrest Muslim criminals. While some of the committees operate as religious community service organizations, locals say the Zamfara State Vigilante Group has a reputation for meting out on-the-spot beatings to suspected lawbreakers.
The group's volunteer members wear red uniforms and berets, arm themselves with homemade machetes, pistols and whips, and patrol the streets in six-man teams. Villagers say vigilantes brought Bariya Magazu to court when she was found pregnant.
Sharia's law-and-order political platform gained widespread popularity from many of Nigeria's northern Muslims. Eight more northern states have since announced their intentions to implement sharia. Zamfara's leading role in the movement is now a source of pride for the state's authorities. At the state's border, a sign along the highway proclaims in bold letters: "Welcome to Zamfara, Home of Farming and SHARIA."
Muslim court in Nigeria sentences pregnant teen to public flogging
HRWF International Secretariat - Website: http://www.hrwf.net - Email: firstname.lastname@example.org - A pregnant teen-age girl has been sentenced to 180 strokes of the cane by a Muslim sharia court in northern Nigeria, officials said Friday.
rights activists have reacted angrily to the sentencing of 17-year-old
Bariya Magazu after a trial likely to fuel controversy over the
introduction of the strict sharia penal code in parts of northern Nigeria.
Separately, Roman Catholic bishops of Nigeria issued a statement calling on President Olusegun Obasanjo "to address the sharia issue with the seriousness and sense of urgency that it deserves."
Multi-ethnic Nigeria has been sharply divided over sharia since late last year when Zamfara state embraced it. Hundreds of people died in two bouts of Christian-Muslim bloodletting over plans to introduce it in neighboring Kaduna state earlier this year.
Non-Muslims oppose sharia for its tough sanctions, such as stoning for adultery and amputation of hands for theft.
Zamfara officials said the court in the state capital Gusau had earlier this week found Magazu, who is several months pregnant and being looked after by her parents, guilty of having pre-marital sex.
"The court sentenced her to 180 strokes of the cane, and she will be publicly flogged 40 days after she puts to bed (gives birth)," an official said.
Rights groups described the sentence as barbaric and a violation of the girl's fundamental human rights.
"It's shocking and really very embarrassing. It is baffling why the Zamfara government would go ahead to enforce sharia to the extent of having to give a small girl 180 strokes of the cane," said Samson Bako of the Constitutional Rights Project.
Bako said a coalition of rights groups would consider court action against the central government if it failed to stop the spread of sharia in the country.
Despite opposition, sharia appears popular in the predominantly Islamic north where half a dozen states have adopted it or are about to do so.
In their statement issued Friday after a five-day meeting in Kaduna, the bishops said their original fear that non-Muslims would suffer under a sharia regime had been justified.
Anger as teen is flogged for love
A PREGNANT teenage girl was sentenced on Friday to 180 strokes of the cane by a Muslim sharia court in northern Nigeria.
Human rights activists reacted angrily to the sentencing of 17-year- old Bariya Magazu following a trial that's likely to fuel controversy over the introduction of the strict sharia penal code in parts of northern Nigeria.
Roman Catholic bishops of Nigeria issued a statement calling on President Olusegun Obasanjo "to address the sharia issue with the seriousness and sense of urgency it deserves “.
The court in Zamfara State, the first of Nigeria’s regional governments to proclaim sharia law, tried Magazu on charges of having had pre-marital sex.
Multi-ethnic Nigeria has been sharply divided over sharia, since late last year when Zamfara embraced it.
Hundreds of people died in two bouts of Chrislian-Muslim bloodletting over plans to introduce it is neighbouring Kaduna State earlier this year. Non Muslims oppose sharia for its tough sanctions, such as stoning for adultery and amputation of hand, for theft.
Zamfara officials said the court in the State capital Gusau earlier lest week found Magazu several months pregnant and being looked after by her parent, guilty of having sex illegally.
"The court sentenced her to 180 strokes of the cane and she will be publicly flogged 40 days after she put, to bed [gives birth]" an official said.
Rights groups described the sentence as barbaric and a violation of the girl's human rights.
“It’s shocking and really very embarrassing. It is baffling why the Zamfara Government would go ahead to enforce sharia to the extent of having to give a small girl 180 strokes of the cane " said Samson Bako of the Constitutional Rights Project. Bako said a coalition of rights groups, would consider court action against the central government if it failed to stop the spread of sharia in the country. Despite opposition, Sharia appears popular in the predominantly Islamic north where some half a dozen States adopted it or are about to do so.
The bishops said in a statement their fear that non-Muslims would suffer under a sharia regime had been justified.
"The reality on the ground in States that have adopted sharia shows that non-Muslims are being negatively and unjustly affected," the statement said. In many cases, Christian bodies were denied land on which to build places of worship, it said.
While reaffirming their faith in a unified Nigeria, the bishops said they believed Nigeria's constitution needed to be reviewed to reassure people of all faiths.
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