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Internet Petitions and Letter-Writing Campaigns - Yes or No?
The story of Amina Lawal

Last updated September 26, 2003
Links checked March 26, 2007

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E-Petitions and Letter Campaigns - Yes or No?

Early in May of 2003, Michele Landsberg (a Toronto Star columnist) wrote an article that was critical about e-petitions that were circulating in an effort to prevent the stoning death of Amina Lawal, a Nigerian woman sentenced to death for adultery (see "E-petition to save Amina could harm not help", below).

At the time, Amnesty International (AI) was urging people to sign an e-petition to prevent Amina's death. I sent an e-mail message to AI asking for clarification; their reply appears below.


"Thank you for your email and interest in Amnesty International's campaign for Amina Lawal. AI concurs with BAOBAB's concern about the dissemination of inaccurate information and we have not only posted accurate and current information on our website concerning Amina's case, but also a clarification about misleading and false facts being circulated. We have also stressed that as an organisation, Amnesty International considers that Amina Lawal's right to legal representation, appeal and a fair trial are being respected and the organisation does not wish to interfere in the judicial process. Furthermore, we take no position on the introduction and application of Sharia law per se, as long as it is carried out in full respect of international human rights standards, and in accordance with the conventions of international law signed and ratified by Nigeria.

Amnesty International promotes the use of petitions because they have proved to be an effective tool in the campaigning, education and promotion of reforms, which can help prevent abuses. The problem with letter-writing on the case of Amina Lawal in particular was that it was targeted at the State authorities. Amnesty International works closely with BAOBAB in Nigeria and our Email action on is targeted at the Nigerian High Commission in Canberra, not to authorities in Nigeria. We have encouraged people to broaden out their appeals to highlight women's human rights in Nigeria not just one case. Financial donations to NGOs promoting human rights is also an extremely effective form of activism, but we recognise that many people can donate time far more easily than money.

Further information can be found on the Amnesty International Australia website.

Amnesty International greatly appreciates your interest in and commitment to universal human rights."

Amina Lawal Case Update - August 28, 2002
[NOTE: this link is broken (09/04) - go to the AI-Australia website (the link below) and do a search on "Amina Lawal"]
"Death by stoning decision adjourned to 25 September. The appeal case of Nigerian woman, Amina Lawal, sentenced to death by stoning for having a child out of wedlock, has been adjourned until 25 September."

NOTE: This update on the Amina Lawal case is from Amnesty International Australia, which continues to encourage people to sign the petition to spare Amina Lawal's life. I recently wrote to BAOBAB (the Nigerian women's human rights group that has been working on Ms. Lawal's case and others like it) to ask for clarification of the request on their website for people to refrain from signing any petitions or joining a letter-writing campaign.

According to a reply that I received September 2/02, BAOBAB considers that "claims of petitions and signature campaign(s) serving as 'pressures ' in influencing the decision of the judges is untrue. What is true is that the due process of law has been followed, which has led to the acquittal of Safiya Husseini, for example. In addition these claims will only serve to cause more harm than good to Amina Lawal appeal process." (Excerpt from BAOBAB)

Amnesty International Australia

E-petition to save Amina could harm, not help
- from the CoolWomen site (see link below)
May 11, 2003
This May 10 column by Michele Landsberg of the Toronto Star is about Amina Lawal, a Nigerian woman who was sentenced in 2002 to death by stoning for the crime of unwed sex. According to Landsberg, the three separate global e-mail campaigns that took place over the past year to help Amina Lawal can actually hurt her chances of fair and humane treatment. "Protests from western 'infidels' are not taken seriously by fundamentalist sharia courts. In fact, contemptuous e-mails from western sources merely inflame the defiant attitudes of Taliban-type local leaders, and spur them to ever harsher and more extreme actions." Read the article to find out how to really help Amina --- by donating to the Nigerian feminist human rights organization called BAOBAB that is providing her with a lawyer and mounting an appeal on her behalf.

NOTE: This Landsberg article reflects my views about online petitions in general. "All e-mail petitions are a complete waste of time and cyberspace", she says. "You cannot be sure a petition's contents are accurate, but you can be pretty sure that it won't really end up on the desk of the intended recipient. If it does, it will certainly be ignored as unverifiable. (...) If you really want to help Amina and strengthen enlightened action against savagely unfair practices, send a cheque or international money order (made out to BAOBAB/WLUML-AME Legal Defence Fund) to BAOBAB for Women's Human Rights, P.O. Box 73630, Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria.
CoolWomen - Women of Canada making history

Appeal from Nigerian Women's Human Rights Group re. petitions to save Amina Lawal:

Nigeria: The case of Amina Lawal to be determined on 25 September 2003
Sept. 24 BAOBAB Press release
"Ms. Lawal and the team of human and women’s rights NGOs and activists in Nigeria who have been working closely with Ms. Lawal on her defence and in her support, are NOT asking for an international petition of this sort at this time. Furthermore, Amnesty International’s International Secretariat in London and in the USA have also stated that they support the Nigerian local defence teams and that they are NOT circulating the message below for an international petition for Ms. Lawal now – contrary to the implication in the message.
Our fear is that petitions at this time would be likely to result in a further over-reaction and backlash from the religious right and vigilantes, who might then (as in a previous case) take direct action instead of waiting for the legal process. This is a real and immediate physical as well as psychological threat to Ms. Lawal and to the lawyers, human and women’s rights activists supporting her."
BAOBAB for Women's Human Rights



Nigeria: Amina Lawal’s Appeal is Won!
26 September 2003
"The Katsina State Sharia Court of Appeal has vindicated Amina Lawal’s appeal against her conviction for adultery and sentence of stoning to death.
A four to one majority of the full five judge panel upheld every single one of the grounds of the appeal. The Sharia court held that pregnancy outside of marriage is not proof of adultery, that Ms. Lawal’s alleged confession was no confession in law, and, that her rights of defence had not been properly recognised in the lower courts."
Women Living Under Muslim Laws
(BAOBAB for Women's Human Rights)


Internet Petitions - Added August 30, 2009
Signing and circulating online petitions is an effective way of helping to remedy important issues.
Or is it?
"The 2000s have seen the birth of an Internet phenomenon: the e-petition. It offers instant comfort to those outraged by the latest ills of the world through its implicit assurance that affixing their names to a statement decrying a situation and demanding change will make a difference. That assurance is a severely flawed one for a multitude of reasons..."


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