Daniel Somerville | October 1, 2003
The case of Amina Lawal captured the attention of many around the world: human rights groups, women's organisations, concerned individuals, even beauty queens - but did this community of conscience have anything to do with her acquittal or was it a victory for the Shari'a legal system? Boabab, the human rights organisation defending Amina Lawal, on more than one occasion requested that people around the globe stop making statements and protests about Lawal's conviction and rather allow the Shari'a appeals system to takes its course, which in most cases results in acquittal. While judgements and sentences are harsh under Shari'a law - there also exists, within the system, a complex web of safety nets for those convicted under Shari'a law.
Amina Lawal was caught by one of these safety nets - irregularities in the circumstances of her initial hearing meant that she got off, on a technicality. There has to be economic equity between the parties involved and there have to be four witnesses to the actual act of adultery - the existence of the child out of wedlock was not proof enough, despite what the initial hearing may have thought. But is it possible that public pressure played some role also? Had the world not been watching so closely would Lawal have faced another band of bigoted men at appeal, intent on upholding a fiercely patriarchal system? That interpretation was certainly given for the initial, allegedly sexist conviction. Could it have gone as far as a stoning to death had the eyes of the world not been scrutinising the integrity of Shari'a law? These questions and others are to be given another test it seems.
The moral majority around the world were upset by a death sentence for adultery, perhaps because in those (western) countries where the protests were most loudly proclaimed the act of adultery is not regarded as a serious offence - hurtful yes, grounds for divorce, certainly, but not something worth killing over - even in those countries that still have the death sentence for more serious crimes. So was the outcry over Amina Lawal an outcry against the death sentence or against the death sentence for this particular crime? Or, was it perhaps an outcry over the type of death - so brutal and yet so Biblical?
The new test is this - Jibrin Babaji a 43-year old man, has been sentenced to death by stoning by a Shari'a court in Bauchi, Nigeria. His crime is sodomy, in contravention of section 133 of the Shari'a penal code and chapter 11 verse 82 of the Holy Qur'an.
Babaji has accepted the offence by admitting his guilt publicly, to the police and the court, and has admitted to being a Muslim - these are the conditions under which judge Mallam Sani Jibrin Darazo can deliver a judgement and sentence of this severity.
The safety net for Jibrin Babaji is wearing a little thin at this point. Made even thinner by the fact that he is not likely to get much sympathy from foreign observers because the people he repeatedly sodomized were boy children aged 10 and 13.
Babaji shivered throughout his one hour and thirty minute trial and covered his face when the death sentence was delivered reported the Daily Trust newspaper in Abuja. The report continued that the judge said: "Since you have admitted to have committed sodomy with (names withheld) this honourable court has found you guilty of sodomy... and hereby sentences you to death by stoning as stated in Chapter 11 verse 82 of the Holy Qur'an and also section 354 of the Hadith".
The issue of witnesses was circumvented by Babaji's confession, so said the court.
As the judge made his pronouncement, reportedly, most of the people gathered at the Shari'a court on Kobi Street chanted in unison "Allahu akhbar" (Allah is great), as policemen lead the convict out of the courtroom.
Now here lies the test. Those who oppose the death sentence for any crime will surely oppose this one, but there are many people, even in the developed world, who would like to introduce the death sentence for such abuses against children. His crime, in the eyes of the moral majority, is far greater than that of adultery and he should without doubt be removed somehow from society, so as not to harm any more children.
However, the problem for human rights groups and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) organisations is this: do they speak up for Babaji on the basis that the crime for which he is sentenced is sodomy and not child molestation? Unless, of course, the sentence included allusion to child abuse, and that was simply not reported. Assuming that the charge is sodomy then, if this conviction fails at appeal and the sentence is carried out, the door is open for other sodomites - even consenting gay adults (even consenting heterosexual couples for that matter), to be convicted and sentenced similarly. Even without further arrests, which can only be made if a complaint is made, the door is certainly open for all kinds of blackmail and abuses against gay men in Nigeria.
While the crime is that of sodomy, activists, especially LGBT activists, should oppose this sentence, while still condemning the aspect of the crime that involves un-consensual sex with minors. But then we would simply be asking for a change in the charge - Babaji could still face a stoning unless the death sentence itself is also opposed. There seems little hope that public pressure on the scale of the Lawal case will come to bear on the Babaji case, and presently, little hope that Shari'a law's safety nets or the sympathies of public concern will catch or save Babaji. The integrity of Shari'a law was proven in the case of Amina Lawal but may also have to be proven again in the case of Jibrin Babaji - this time upholding the sentence, however unpalatable. –Behind The Mask