Amid an international outcry against death sentences handed down to two Nigerian Muslim women convicted of adultery under Islamic law, Nigeria's Justice Minister Kanu Agabi has declared the Islamic legal systems operating in a dozen northern states discriminatory and unconstitutional.

"A court which imposes discriminatory punishments is deliberately flouting the Constitution," said a letter from Agabi to 12 governors. "The stability, unity, and integrity of the nation are threatened by such action."

But Muslim governors are unmoved, saying the statement has no legal force in their individual states. "Nobody has the right or power to stop us from doing it," said Ahmed Sani, governor of Zamfara state. "As far as Zamfara state is concerned, Shari'ah is a foregone conclusion. There is no question of dialogue anymore."

Both Muslim women were convicted largely on the evidence that they were pregnant and unmarried. Men accused of adultery can only be convicted on the testimony of four witnesses.

Safiya Husseini, 35, saw her conviction reversed March 25 on appeal. The Shari'ah court judge in Sokoto City acquitted her because the alleged offense occurred before the implementation of Islamic law. Local and international human rights and Christian groups had championed her case for six months. Husseini had faced a sentence of death by stoning.

The other defendant, Amina Lawal Kurami, remains in jeopardy. A Shari'ah court in Katsina state ruled on March 22 that she could breastfeed her baby for eight months before she would be executed. She has yet to appeal the conviction.

Aside from these high-profile cases, several Christians are serving prison terms for breaking Shari'ah laws. Observers say that poor Muslims, such as Husseini and Kurami, ...

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