Bulletin # 93 (30 March 2002)



Nigeria: Freedom instead of death by stoning - Islamic Law may be banned

Vatican: Drops into silence about "mysterium iniquitatis"

USA: Bishops face racketeering charges

UK: Landmark judgement for the right to die

Australia: Nancy Crick sells keys to her house

Saudi Arabia: Girls without scarf have to die


Nigeria: Freedom instead of death by stoning - Islamic Law may be banned

Safiyatu Husseini Tunga-Tudu's fate moved people across the world. In October 2001, a sharia court in the northwestern state of Sokoto had sentenced the 35-year-old Muslim mother of five to death by stoning for alleged adultery. Human rights activists and lawyers in Nigeria mobilized national and international protest against the death sentence. Now an Islamic appeal court set her free. -- But at the same time, there is already another woman waiting for her death by stoning. In the remote village of Bakori in the state of Katsina, a sharia court condemned Amina, because she has a baby out of wedlock.

Safiyatu was acquitted with the argument that her alleged adultery happened before sharia was implemented in Sokoto and 11 other predominantly Muslim states in northern Nigeria and did therefore not fall under the jurisdiction of a sharia court. Following the argument of her lawyer Abdulkadir Ibrahim, her confession was also taken as invalid, because the court had failed to inform her about its dire consequences. Safiyatu had born a daughter, two years after being divorced by her former husband. Admitting adultery, she had been sentenced to death, while the man, who was believed to be the father, was spared for lack of evidence. Now she was given the opportunity to modify her statement, telling that the baby was the child of her former husband only, which had been "sleeping in her" for two years. According to Islamic Law, this defense is possible up to seven years after the end of a marriage.

The hearing took place in the presence of many visitors and human rights activists from other parts of Nigeria as well as reporters and photographers. The judgement was read in Arabic language, and only after it was translated into her mother tongue Haussa, a relieved Safiyatu understood, why everybody congratulated her.

Meanwhile, in the face of international criticism, Nigeria's central government made first moves to ban Islamic law, which had been implemented despite strong protest and communal violence between Muslims and Christians. President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian, had never been in favor of its implementation. Now his Justice Minister Kanu Agabi wrote to the governments of the 12 states, which have adopted sharia, informing them that Islamic Law was discriminatory and illegal, contradicted the constitution of Nigeria and had therefore to be abolished.

[See also Bulletin # 88 (18 January 2002) - Nigeria: First Sharia execution]


Vatican: Drops into silence about the "mysterium iniquitatis"

Finally the Pope dropped some words about the explosion of sex abuse scandals which has caused the most serious crisis the American church has ever faced. His traditional Holy Thursday letter to the priests briefly and vaguely touched the issue of "our brothers" who have succumbed to the "mysterium iniquitatis" (mystery of sin) and expressed "profound grief" about the involvement of priests in the "most grievous form of evil". There was only one paragraph alltogether in his 22-page letter dealing with the issue, and words like "pedophilia" or "child abuse" were strictly avoided. Instead, the Pope preferred to cloud his sympathetic minimal condemnation in celestial terminology.

His words were drops into the uneasy silence over the recent series of scandals surrounding US priests and bishops, that had been taken in Vatican circles as alarming symptom of the Pope's incapability to further run the church. So far the Pope's only comment on the issue had been a one-paragraph apology to the victims, which was recently released in Latin language as part of a document on a bishops conference held some years ago [see Bulletin # 89, Vatican: Secret Ecclesiastical Courts try priests for child abuse] and was felt to be no suitable public response to handle the situation. Embarrassment about lack of leadership is palpable in the Vatican. Rumors are that the Pope's inner circle is especially hesitant to step into the vacuum and act on the Pope's behalf, because all bishops and cardinals accused of involvement in the great cover-up-scandal were appointed by John Paul II. There is growing unrest among the cardinals. Liberals and hard liners agree these days on one thing: the weak and wary Pope should finally call it a day. With his inability to fulfil the traditional Easter ceremonies this year, pressure is mounting on John Paul II, to abdicate.

Meantime Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, a top contender to succeed the Pope, has found a new formula of excuse: "Concerning the problem of sexual abuse and the cases of pedophilia, I have only one answer, the cardinal said. "In today's culture of pansexualism and libertinism created in this world, several priests, being of this culture, have committed the most serious crime of sexual abuse." Translation: Priests don't abuse children, Americans do!


USA: Bishops face racketeering charges

A fresh lawsuit has been filed in a state court of Hannibal, Missouri on behalf of an unnamed former seminary student against Anthony J O'Connel, the former bishop of the diocese of Palm Beach. After the first lawsuit against him in March this year, O'Connel, meantime head of the Florida diocese, resigned.

What is special in the new lawsuit is that it deals with the conspiracy angle of the case. O'Connel, two other bishops and three dioceses, in which he had served during his career, conspired over decades to cover-up his history of sexual abuse. Consequently, all the conspirators are named as co-accused on federal racketeering charges.

Federal racketeering charges are classically used to bring down large criminal syndicates like the mafia. This kind of charges is warranted, explains Jeff Anderson, the lead attorney in the case, because they highlight the broader pattern of concealment by the Catholic church. The church keeps secret files on abusive priests, saves them out to secure posts in other states and offers bribe to the victims.

These are the first federal racketeering charges, Jeff Anderson has filed against the church in a career that includes nearly 500 related cases.


UK: Landmark judgement for the right to die

For the first time in Britain, a patient has been granted the right to die. The historic court order was relayed to "Miss B" by video link to her bedside in a London hospital.

"Miss B" is a 43-year-old former social care worker, who remained anonymous by court order. She is paralyzed from her neck down and not able to move or even breath unaided, after a blood vessel in her neck ruptured one year back. She is confined to the intensive care unit of a hospital, and experts see her chances to recover less than 1 per cent. In control of her full mental faculties, Miss B asked her doctors in August last year to switch off her life support; they refused with reference to their ethics. Since then, she was kept alive against her wishes.

After visiting her in hospital, High Court judge Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, praising Miss B's courage and determination, ruled that the patient was competent to decide to end her life with dignity. "Administration of ventilation by artificial means since August 8, 2001, has been an unlawful trespass", she said in the landmark ruling, which was welcomed by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society as well as the British Medical Association.

Miss B had been given strong moral support to fight her case by Heather Pratten, who helped her son Nigel to die in 2000. Nigel Pratten, suffering from Huntington's disease with degenerative brain condition, decided to end his life in October 2000 on his 42nd birthday with a dose of Heroin. After 5 hours in coma, he was nearly dead. "I had promised that he would not leave that room alive. So I picked up a pillow and put it over his face which was very very difficult", Heather Pratten said with an emotion choked voice in a recent interview with BBC radio. "It was the best thing I could do for him. It was his choice and I think it was his right to choose." She had been convicted for her deed, but was later given a conditional discharge on humanitarian grounds.

The decision in favor of Miss B comes only a few days after Diane Pretty, another completely paralyzed 43-year-old British woman, who is seeking the legal right to die, took her case to the European Court of Human Rights. British courts had refused to comply with her wish and to guarantee immunity to her husband, whom she wants to assist her suicide.


Australia: Nancy Crick sells keys to her house

Nancy Crick, 70, suffers from bowl cancer in the last stage. She has described her physical disintegration stage by stage on the Internet. Her weight has come down to 27 kg; she has lost almost all her teeth and suffers from chronic vomiting and diarrhoea. In what she called her last public appearance, she said now, time has come for her to end her life.

Nancy Crick's case revived the euthanasia controversy in Australia. In 1996, Australia's Northern Territory became for a short period the first state in the world to legalize voluntary euthanasia. The law was vetoed by the federal government in 1997 and overturned. Today it is not a crime to suicide, but illegal to assist someone to do so.

Ms. Crick will need assistance to end her life. During a rally in support of voluntary euthanasia, her friends and supporters sold keys to her house to allow people to join her close friends, sitting by her bedside in her last hour. This is meant to confuse the authorities on who actually helped her to die.

Related articles and reports: A yardstick for civilization, by Sanal Edamaruku [Bulletin # 57] and Netherlands: First country to legalize euthanasia [Bulletin # 70]


Saudi Arabia: Girls without scarf have to die

Fifteen schoolgirls died in a burning school building in Mecca, because they did not wear correct Islamic dress. Saudi Arabia's religious mutaween police, the so-called "Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice", stopped them from leaving the blazing building, because they were without headscarves and abayas (black robes), reported BBC News. A policeman was seen beating a girl, who escaped, and forcing her back into the flames, reported the Saudi Arabian daily al-Eqtisadiah. Police also stopped firemen and other helpers, who tried to rescue the girls, warning it was "sinful" to come near them. A school guard refused despite the pleas of a girl's father to unlock the gates, when the fire broke out. The authorities used to keep the school locked to make sure that boys and girls remained strictly apart.

In a rare event, some of the Saudi Arabian newspapers reflected outrage and fury of the victims' relatives and the public against the police, who was held responsible for the girls' death. The mutaween are all-powerful in Saudi Arabia and normally nobody dares to criticize them. They use to beat up or arrest and jail anybody, who doesn't obey their orders, when they patrol the streets to enforce the strict Islamic dress code and the practicing of the prescribed prayers and harass those who indulge in forbidden contact between men and women.

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Honorary Associates: Dr. Pieter Admiraal (The Netherlands), Prof. Mike Archer (Australia), Katsuaki Asai (Japan), Sir Hermann Bondi (UK), Prof. Colin Blakemore (UK), Prof. Vern Bullough (USA), Dr Bill Cooke (New Zealand), Dr. Helena Cronin (UK), Prof. Richard Dawkins (UK), Joseph Edamaruku (India), Prof. Antony Flew (UK), Jim Herrick (UK), Christopher Hitchens (USA), Ellen Johnson (USA), Prof. Paul Kurtz (USA), Lavanam (India), Dr. Richard Leakey (Kenya), Iain Middleton (New Zealand), Dr. Henry Morgentaler (Canada), Dr. Taslima Nasreen (Bangladesh), Steinar Nilsen (Norway), Prof. Jean-Claude Pecker (France), James Randi (USA), Prof. Ajoy Roy (Bangladesh), Dr G N Jyoti Shankar (deceased, USA), Barbara Smoker (UK), Prof. Harry Stopes-Roe (UK), Prof. Rob Tielman (The Netherlands), David Tribe (Australia), Barry Williams (Australia) and Prof. Lewis Wolpert (UK).

Sanal Edamaruku, President of Rationalist International, can be contacted at Edamaruku@rationalistinternational.net