- A Shari'a court in northern Nigeria has handed down a death by stoning sentence for a man admitting to have engaged in homosexual acts. The middle-aged man has been on death row for several months, awaiting his execution. A human rights spokesman of the UN today urged Nigerian courts to give the man a milder sentence.
It is unclear when the homosexual man, reported to be about 50 years old, received his death sentence from a Shari'a court in the Muslim north of the country. News about the man, now sitting on death row, only reached the public today after Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur of the UN's Commission on Human Rights on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, had visited the prisoner.
In a statement to the media in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, Mr Alston said he had recently visited about 20 percent of all the estimated 530 individuals sitting on death row in Nigerian prisons. Most had been sentenced to death by ordinary courts for reasons ranging from armed robbery to murder. Many could be innocent due to unfair trials and the use of torture.
The most controversial verdicts in Nigeria are however handed down by the religious Shari'a courts in the northern states. The courts base their sentences on the Koran and much publicised cases include the death sentences against women allegedly committing adultery. In these cases, the men were let free.
Pro-gay and lesbian activists have for a long time feared that the Shari'a courts also would seize opportunity to sentence homosexuals to death, as this follows the most common interpretations of Muslim religious texts. Until now, however, no death by stoning sentences against Nigerian homosexuals had been registered.
Mr Alston, who had visited the unidentified "condemned convict", said the Shari'a court had sentenced him to death "for committing sodomy." The accused had denied the accusation levelled at him based on allegations presented by a local legal committee, but he had confessed to the judge that he "had previously engaged in homosexual acts."
- On the basis of that confession he was apparently convicted and is now on death row awaiting execution by stoning, Mr Alston said. "Assuming that the facts of this case as presented to me are correct, I would call for immediate measures to review the entire proceedings. Sodomy cannot be considered one of the most serious crimes for which, under international law, the death penalty can be prescribed. The punishment is wholly disproportionate," the UN specialist held.
According to press reports, the committed "homosexual acts" had been voluntary for the parties engaged. Homosexuality is also illegal according to Nigeria's civil laws, but does not carry the death penalty. Penalties are however heavier if the sexual act was not voluntary. Mr Alston had not been informed of any other Nigerian death sentences based on homosexual acts.
During his press conference in Abuja, Mr Alston held that the imposition of the death penalty by Muslim courts out of all proportion to the alleged offence are "all too common" in Nigeria. He also strongly criticised the killing of jailed suspects in Nigeria, the jailing of innocent citizens for refusing to pay bribes and the fraudulent placement of evidence.
The UN specialist's two-week visit to Nigeria coincides with yesterday's issuing of a joint statement by the Nigerian Coalition on Death Penalty Abolition (NCDPA), The Human Rights Law Service (HURILAWS) and Legal Resources Consortium, calling on President Olusegun Obasanjo to limit or stop the use of death sentences in the country. The groups in particular criticised the use of death sentences for people who were under the age of 18 at the time when the crime was committed.
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