KATSINA, Nigeria - An Islamic court overturned the conviction of an illiterate mother sentenced to be stoned to death for having sex out of wedlock, easing pressure on the Nigerian government in a case that has drawn sharp criticism from around the globe.
Lawyers hailed Thursday's ruling as a triumph for Islamic justice, but conservative Muslims in the predominantly Islamic north said Amina Lawal should have been executed.
Wrapped in a light orange veil and sitting quietly at the front of a small, sweltering courtroom, the 32-year-old at the center of the controversy appeared emotionless throughout the hearing, staring down at the floor, cradling her nearly 2-year-old daughter.
A panel of five judges in white turbans and black robes ruled 4-1 in Lawal's favor, citing procedural errors and arguing she was not given "ample opportunity to defend herself."
Lawal did not speak after the verdict, and police and lawyers hustled her away as reporters crowded around.
Had the sentence been carried out, Lawal would have become the first woman stoned to death in Nigeria since 12 northern states began adopting strict Islamic law, or sharia, in 1999.
Reading the hourlong ruling in the local Hausa language, Judge Ibrahim Mai-Unguwa argued that only one judge was present during Lawal's initial conviction in March 2002, instead of the three required under local Islamic law.
He noted that under some interpretations of sharia, babies can remain in gestation in a mother's womb for over five years, opening the possibility that her ex-husband - whom she divorced two years before giving birth - could have fathered the child.