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>> Daily Telegraph


DON'T BOYCOTT NIGERIA'S MISS WORLD CONTEST, BEGS MOTHER FACING STONI

By Andrew Alderson, Chief Reporter A Nigerian woman sentenced to death for having a baby outside marriage has halted a planned boycott of the Miss World contest, urging contestants not to stay away from her country. Beauty contestants from around the world had threatened to refuse to attend the forthcoming pageant in Nigeria as a protest against the decision, under Sharia law, to stone Amina Lawal, 30. The women, who were supported by British MEPs, had argued that a boycott would bring international pressure to bear on Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo to overturn the sentence, which was passed by a regional court. However, when an Italian charity which travelled to Nigeria to interview Miss Lawal asked her whether she supported a boycott by contestants on her behalf, she said that she did not think this was the right approach. "Let them come," she said, speaking through a translator. "I know things will work out because people are coming from all over the world to support me." Miss Lawal does not want Nigeria to become isolated and said that President Obasanjo was supporting the campaign to have her sentence overturned. "I can neither read nor write, but I've heard he is a good person and is doing all he can for me," she said in her interview with Hands Off Cain, an Italian-based group campaigning against the death sentence worldwide. Miss Lawal was sentenced to death earlier this year after giving birth to a daughter, Wasila, now 10 months old, outside marriage in a village in northern Nigeria. Under Sharia law, the sentence is due to be carried out after her daughter is weaned. Last month it was reported that at least seven of the 100 Miss World contestants were planning to boycott the contest, due to take place on December 7. Now, however, the organisers of the pageant say that the threatened boycott has been called off following Miss Lawal's plea and a similar appeal from MEPs. Julia Morley, whose late husband Eric started the Miss World contest in 1951, said that only the participation of Miss Denmark was in doubt: the contestant wants to attend but she faces opposition from powerful lobbying groups within the country. All other contestants have withdrawn their threat of a boycott, she said. "Having visited Nigeria six times in the past four months, I realise the president and most of the country are doing everything they can to overturn what they consider to be a dastardly act." The public appeal to contestants by Miss Lawal was supported yesterday by Daniella Laun, 21, a student at Oxford Brookes University who was chosen as the Miss England contestant last month. After she was selected, The Telegraph revealed that Miss Laun would go to the contest in Abuja, central Nigeria, but would use it to protest against the death sentence. Yesterday, Miss Laun spoke of her delight at hearing Miss Lawal's call for support rather than a boycott. "If Amina feels we should go to support her then I am very pleased," she said. "I think it's totally inhumane that she faces being stoned to death but I felt that if I abandoned Nigeria I would have abandoned Amina and her supporters." Miss Laun leaves in a fortnight on the month-long trip to Nigeria that - alongside £1,000 worth of clothes and jewellery - was her prize for winning Miss England. Her decision to attend came despite an open letter from seven British MEPs urging her to shun the contest. However, seven other MEPs led by Emma Bonino, the Italian MEP and former European Commissioner for humanitarian aid, have now written an open letter to all Miss World contestants supporting Miss Lawal's call for them to attend. They said that a boycott would be unjust and counter-productive. "A boycott of Nigeria at this crucial moment may well be the death knell of a fledgling democracy. We should support the democratic process in Nigeria rather than isolate it," they wrote. Sergio D'Elia, the general secretary of Hands Off Cain, who met Miss Lawal in Nigeria earlier this month, said that he was optimistic that a process of appeals under Sharia law would lead to the sentence being overturned. "In the meantime, Amina is free to wean Wasila until 2004 under the terms of an Islamic court judgment," he said. Miss Lawal, who had two other children from previous marriages, remains tolerant towards Muslim fundamentalists despite her sentence. "When I was condemned to death I didn't feel anything, and I still don't feel anything now. I'm still a Muslim even though Sharia law had dealt me this punishment." She does not believe a person can change his or her destiny. "Only God can do that. I have no dreams or aspirations, only God can decide if life will smile at me. I ask God to help me. I pray. God's will be done."





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