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Nigerian woman made Rome 'citizen'

"We want the citizenship we are giving symbolically to Safiya to be an impulse for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide!"

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Safiya & child

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A Nigerian woman who was saved from being stoned to death under Islamic Sharia law has been made an honorary citizen of the Italian capital, Rome. The honour was conferred on Monday to Safiya Husseini who was sentenced to death for adultery last year, but was later acquitted on appeal.

Rome's Mayor, Walter Veltroni, said he hoped to confer the same honour to another Nigerian woman facing death by stoning for adultery.

But Muslim leaders in northern Nigeria have denounced the move and accused Italian leaders of seeking to convert Safiya Husseini to Christianity.

Honorary title

"It is a beautiful day for Rome," Mayor Veltroni said during the ceremony.

The title of "citizen" is purely honorary and carries no residency or any other legal rights. Safiya Husseini, 35, and her two year-old daughter arrived in Rome from Lagos on Saturday. Ms Husseini was sentenced to death by a Sharia court in her home state of Sokoto in northern Nigeria in 2000.

The sentence triggered protests in many countries.

The outcry was particularly strong in Italy where candlelit vigils were held outside the Nigerian embassy in Rome.

After Ms Husseini's acquittal in March, the Colosseum was floodlit at night - as is the case when a death penalty is cancelled somewhere.

Mr Veltroni said on Monday that attention should now turn to the case of Amina Lawal - a 30-year-old Nigerian woman appealing against a similar death sentence for adultery.

"For Safiya, we have lit up the Colosseum," Mr Veltroni said.

"We hope to be able to light it up again for Amina."

He added: "We want the citizenship we are giving symbolically to Safiya to be an impulse for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide, and recognition for the rights of women, while respecting religious and cultural diversity."

'Conversion'

But Muslim leaders from Nigeria have condemned the honour. Two of the 12 state governors who brought Islamic law to northern Nigeria say they tried to prevent Ms Husseini from receiving it.

"When I learned of the invitation I wrote to the State Security Service chief and the Immigration Service asking them not to issue a passport to her," said Sokoto Governor Attahiru Bafarawa.

He said that the immigration authorities granted his request but that the Women's Affairs Ministry sent a delegation to Ms Husseini's village to give her a passport.

Governor Ahmad Sani, of Zamfara state, also condemned Rome's decision.

"Our fear is that Safiya and her daughter will be converted to Christianity, which we believe is the intent of the invitation," he said.

The Nigerian federal government regards the application of Sharia law as unconstitutional, but has so far not acted against its use.

read more: http://www.amnesty.org.au/women

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