Shari'a court acquits Nigerian girl of adultery

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afrol News, 25 January - A 17-year old Nigerian girl with a one-month-old baby on Wednesday was discharged and acquitted of adultery charges by a Sokoto Shari'a court. Hafsatu Abubakar risked a sentence of death by stoning if found guilty.

Hafsatu Abubakar has been in prison since 14 December, charged with having an unlawful sexual relationship with a man. Her one-month-old baby was the evidence, as it was conceived outside marriage. Mrs Abubakar first confessed she had had an unlawful sexual relationship.

Changing her testimony however saved her life. Mrs Abubakar, under consultancy of her lawyer Abdulkadir Imam, explained that the baby probably was fathered by her former husband, whom she was divorced from 18 months ago. Under the Maliki school of interpreting Shari'a law, having a child with an ex-husband up to seven years after the divorce is not a criminal offence.

Imam is also defending 35-year-old Safiya Husseini, also a divorced women charged with adultery. In the highly profiled appeal case of Mrs Husseini, who already has been sentenced to death by stoning by a lower Shari'a court in Sokoto, federal and international pressure to discharge her has been high. Mrs Husseini has also changed her testimony, and now claims her child might have been fathered by her ex-husband.

In the case of Hafsatu Abubakar, trial judge Bawa Sahabi Tambuwal accepted Mr Imam's plead to discharge her due to the contradictory testimonies of the three prosecution witnesses who had appeared before the court. 

According to reports from the Nigerian news agency NAN, covering the case, three key witnesses, including the former husband of Mrs Abubakar, gave contradictory testimonies surrounding her marital status. Imam had concluded that the capital punishment "should be avoided in any way possible when there are contradictions on the allegation of adultery."

Judge Tambuwal agreed to the defence, this sentence should be avoided "based on the provisions that if there are contradictions in the case of a contested pregnancy or child." Her former husband should be regarded as the father of the child "unless he disowns it," Tambuwal added.

He then discharged and acquitted her of adultery. Mrs Abubakar told NAN shortly after the judgment, "I was formerly unhappy but now I am jubilant due to my discharge and acquittal."

Lawyer Abdulkadir Imam meanwhile has learned an important lesson on how to defend women under adultery charges. If the higher Shari'a court of Sokoto accepts the changed testimony of his other prominent client, Safiya Husseini, Wednesday's ruling should have caused precedence. Imam is pushing the same line of arguments in Mrs Husseini's case, and the court is under massive external pressure to discharge her.

Sources: Based on Nigerian press reports and afrol archives Texts and graphics may be reproduced freely, under the condition that their origin is clearly referred to, see Conditions.

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