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Sharia Court bans online discussion of amputation

(MRA/IFEX) - On 22 March 2010, Justice Lawal Muhammed of Magajin Gari Sharia Court in Kaduna, North-western Nigeria banned the Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria, a not-for-profit NGO, from hosting discussions on the amputation of Buba Bello Jangebe on the online social networking sites Facebook and Twitter pending the determination of the suit instituted by a pro-Sharia group, the Association of Muslim Brotherhood of Nigeria.

Delivering his order, Justice Muhammed said: "An order is hereby given restraining the respondents either by themselves or their agents from opening a chat forum on Facebook, Twitter, or any blog for the purpose of the debate on the amputation of Malam Buba Bello Jangebe."

The Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria which opened the discussion on Jangebe's amputation on Facebook and Twitter however, said it would appeal the ruling.

This court order is the first of its kind seeking to interfere in the freedom of interaction and activities of people online in Nigeria.

Mr. Shehu Sani said the chat forums were opened about 10 days ago to provide an avenue for Nigerians to discuss Sharia law as a whole and the amputation of Jangebe in particular.

"We opened the blog on Facebook and Twitter chats 10 days ago to serve as a platform for which Nigerians could air their opinions on Sharia law as a whole and the justification or otherwise of the amputation of the hand of Malam Buba Bello Jangebe," Sani said.

Media Rights Agenda's Senior Programmes Officer, Ayode Longe, spoke with Sani on the phone and he said the forums were opened to mark the 10th anniversary of the amputation of Jangebe and collect the views, ideas, and opinions of Nigerians on the amputation. He added that after he opened the forum, the Muslim Brotherhood visited him, told him people were posting derogatory statements about the amputation and that he should shut it down. He said he categorically told them he will not and that they can also post their opinions on the forum.

He said the brotherhood printed some of the opinion expressed on the sites and went to the sharia court, which ordered the organization to shut the site. Asked if the sites had been shut down, he said he had to, if not, he cannot appeal the order.

The matter comes up for further hearing on 29 March 2010.

In 2000, Jangebe's right hand was amputated at the wrist when a sharia court found him guilty of stealing a cow. He was the first victim of the law which was introduced in some states in Northern Nigeria when Nigeria transited to a civilian rule in 1999.

This is the second time Sani will be having such encounter with the Sharia Court. On 3 October 2007 an Upper Sharia Court in Kaduna issued an injunction, preventing anyone from "selling or in any way circulating" the manuscript of a play titled "The Phantom Crescent" written by Sani. Sani had finished preparation for the public performance of the play: actors were hired and posters pasted at strategic places to publicise the performance when the court came out with the injunction just a few days before the event.

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