Major New Freedom House Report Finds Africa's
Largest Nation Faces Rapid Spread of Extreme Islamic Law

Contact: Paul Marshall, (202) 296-5101 ext. 126

WASHINGTON, DC, March 27, 2002 -- As Nigeria
proceeds to sentence a second woman to death by
stoning under a northern states' controversial
sharia law, Freedom House's Center for Religious
Freedom today released a major report documenting
the brutal and destabilizing effects of the growth
of extremist sharia, Islamic law, in Nigeria. The
101-page report, entitled The Talibanization of
Nigeria: Sharia Law and Religious Freedom, finds
profound violations of human rights and religious
freedom, which undermine Nigeria's democratization

"The March 25 decision not to stone a woman to death
for adultery was based only on a technicality and
does nothing to reverse or moderate sharia," stated
Dr. Paul Marshall, Senior Fellow at Freedom House's
Center for Religious Freedom. The Talibanization of
Nigeria is based on research in several countries
and a fact-finding mission to Nigeria, led by Dr.
Marshall who interviewed religious leaders,
government officials, human rights activists, and
victims of religious discrimination throughout

The report warns that if left unchecked, sharia's
further spread could provoke widespread
inter-religious conflict, and transform Nigeria,
Africa's largest nation, into a center of radical
Islamism, linked to foreign radical groups and
governments. Currently, 12 of Nigeria's 36 states
have adopted or intend to adopt sharia.

"The enforcement of extreme sharia violates all
human rights, especially religious freedom, and
destabilizes this already fragile country," said Dr.
Marshall. The report proposes policy recommendations
to the U.S. and Nigerian governments to prevent this
pivotal African nation from sliding into lawlessness
and terror, like Afghanistan under the Taliban.

Many of Nigeria's Muslim and non-Muslim citizens
face barbaric treatment from Hizbah (religious
enforcers). Hizbah vigilantes mete out harsh,
on-the-spot, extra-legal punishments for such
"un-Islamic" activities as violating dress codes and
questioning Islamic teachings. Women caught riding
alone in taxis are subject to physical abuse by the

In May 2001, an Islamic court in Katsina State
ordered the removal the left eye of Ahmed Tijjani,
who was found guilty of partially blinding a friend
during an argument. Two months later in
Birnin-Kebbi, a sharia court ordered 15-year-old
Abubakar Aliyu's hand amputated for stealing the
equivalent of $300. But Dr. Marshall emphasizes that
the effect on human rights is far more profound and
far wider than the matter of inhuman treatment.

As the following examples show, Nigeria's new sharia
undermines basic human rights:

Sharia is imposed on all Muslims even if they want
to be tried in a constitutionally mandated court,
thus subverting Nigeria's democratic order;
Sharia legitimizes the killing of Muslims who
exercise their right to change their religion;
Sharia results in corporal punishment or death
sentences for women for alleged sexual crimes,
whereas men are invariably not punished;
Non-Muslims are barred from being judges,
prosecutors, and lawyers in the sharia courts to
which they can be subject, thus making them
second-class citizens.
Though some form of sharia has long been part of
Nigeria's civil law, some Nigerian states are
expanding sharia jurisdiction to criminal law
matters in ways that violate Nigeria's constitution
and international human rights standards.

The report cites the deaths of as many as 6,000
Christians, Muslims and others, many hacked to death
with knives and swords, in conflicts precipitated by
the new laws. Restrictions on the construction of
churches have increased and dozens of churches in
the northern sharia states have been destroyed. Dr.
Marshall said "The West should be aware that extreme
sharia in Nigeria creates widespread persecution of
the churches and violently polarizes the Christian
and Muslim communities."

The report concludes that if left unchecked, the
rapid spread of extreme sharia law could push
Nigeria into civil war. Already torn by ethnic and
religious conflict, and with a history of military
dictatorship, Nigeria has only recently embarked on
a democratic path, albeit tentatively.

The report indicates that while there is no evidence
that terrorist groups allied with Al Qaeda are
operating in Nigeria, the country is experiencing
the rapid growth of the type of Islamic extremism
from which Bin Laden has drawn support. There are
indications that this growth is being supported by
foreign radical Islamic regimes and organizations,
such as Sudan and Saudi Arabia, and some foreign
radicals have been involved in the violence. Since
September 11, demonstrations in support of Osama Bin
Laden have taken place in Nigeria, and hundreds of
civilians have been killed in rioting between Bin
Laden supporters and Christians.

The Freedom House report urges the U.S. government
to revise its foreign assistance programs in Nigeria
to assist the Nigerian government in overcoming
Islamic extremism.

Dr. Marshall is the author of many books including
the best-selling, award-winning book Their Blood
Cries Out, a detailed study of persecuted Christians
worldwide. He is the editor of Religious Freedom in
the World: A Global Survey of Freedom and

Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom works
to stop religious repression by documenting and
publicizing restrictions on religious and other
human rights, and by mobilizing public support in
defense of those who are imprisoned, tortured,
exiled, or otherwise persecuted for religious

The report, priced at $8, is available from Freedom
House's Center for Religious Freedom; it is
available without charge to the media and government
offices. Selections from the report are available on
the web at

-- END --

Return to Project Open Book