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The king is seeking wife number 10

Swazi court defies king Friday, 1 November, 2002, 12:30 GMT

Sequel: The King appears to have had his way - the wife has been put through her marriage preparations by the queen mother setting the seal on the process despite the court.

The chief justice of Swaziland has said he will continue to hear the case of a schoolgirl, allegedly abducted to marry King Mswati III, despite instructions from the palace that the case be halted.

The judge, Stanley Sapire, told the high court that he and two of his colleagues had received an order from the royal palace to either drop the investigation or resign.

King Mswati is Africa's last absolute monarch, but has come under pressure in recent years to introduce democratic reforms and abandon polygamy.

The girl's mother went to court seeking the release of the 18-year-old girl, Zena Mhlangu, saying she was taken away without parental consent after the king chose her at a reed dance last month.

The court has been trying to get access to the teenager, who is kept at a royal guest house, to find out whether she actually wants to become the king's 10th wife.


Judge Sapire read out a statement in a packed courtroom saying he and his colleagues would not resign and would stay on to safeguard justice.

"We conclude that in fealty to our oaths of office and duty, which we may not in good conscience abandon, we are bound to continue with the hearing.

"This we will do. We are satisfied that we can, despite what has happened, apply ourselves to conduct the proceedings and give judgement in this matter without fear and favour according to the land of the land."

Applause greeted his remarks in the courtroom.

First case

The 34-year-old king announced in August that he planned to marry once again, two months after marrying wives number eight and nine.

This is the first time the mother of a prospective Swazi Queen has taken legal action against the royal family.

Women rights activists have rallied behind Mrs Dlamini.

Official biographers say Mswati's father, King Sobhuza, had more than 125 wives during his reign of 61 years, which ended when he died in 1982.

Vietnamese women are shackled by stereotype

'Most Vietnamese women abused' Tuesday, 22 October, 2002, 09:28 GMT 10:28 UK By Clare Arthurs BBC Hanoi correspondent

A United Nations report on gender issues in Vietnam says violence against women is widespread.

It quotes one study as reporting that 80% of Vietnamese women have experienced some form of violence.

The study found that almost all men and most women believed it was acceptable for a man to abuse his wife.

The head of the UN in Vietnam, Jordan Ryan, warned that countries which fail to ensure that women and men have equal opportunities will face increasing poverty levels and find themselves unable to achieve lasting economic growth.

Violence accepted

The UN report says violence against women is widespread in Vietnam and includes neglect, verbal abuse, beatings and forced sex.

Much of the blame is placed on the gender stereotypes which keep women and men in prescribed roles and which maintain an unequal power balance between them.

The figures, which are already shocking readers of the report, come from a study by the Vietnam Women's Union.

Men blame alcohol or temper for their violence, while their partners, in the tradition of stoic Vietnamese womanhood, accept it as normal.

Human trafficking

In its report on health, the UN also found that more than 60% of men with the HIV Aids virus failed to use condoms with their wives.

The report also reveals that despite protections for women in Vietnam's laws they are denied equal access to land, education and jobs.

They work longer hours than men for less pay and on less food.

Since 1990, more than 10,000 women and children have been sold into the sex industry.

The government's adviser on women, Tran Thi Mai Huong, says there has been a surge in trafficking which the authorities have been trying to address.

Ms Huong says Vietnam needs to shift its approach from seeing inequity as a women's issue and to get gender issues considered at all levels of society and policy making.

Suu Kyi speaks out for women Tuesday, 18 June, 2002, 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK

Aung San Suu Kyi won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has launched a stinging criticism of the treatment of women in Burma.

In an address to mark her 57th birthday on Wednesday, she said Burmese women were rarely allowed to gain positions of importance and that the situation needed to change.

She also praised them for their courage in overcoming the handicaps imposed on them - and appealed to them to play a greater role in paving the way for social, political and economic change.

Correspondents say she deliberately avoided a verbal attack on the Burmese Government, but some implicit criticism can be read into her statement.

Birthday message

Aung San Suu Kyi is Burma's main opposition leader, and her speech was directed at both women within the country and Burmese exiles.

"In Burma, as in many other parts of the world, women are the underprivileged gender," she said.

"In areas of conflict and crisis, it is our women and children who suffer most. On the other hand, our women are rarely allowed to achieve decision-making positions even though they are able and well qualified."

The pro-democracy leader also said women needed to reach their full potential for the country to make progress.

"The women of Burma must shape not only their own destiny but the destiny of the nation," she said.

They must play a vigorous and leading role in paving the way to social, political and economic changes in the country."

Aung San Suu Kyi went on to praise Burmese women for the courage they had shown in the past.

"Women have had to develop endurance and courage where they might overcome the handicaps imposed on them by outmoded prejudice."

"I would like to call upon the women of Burma to use this courage and endurance to ensure that we move forward as speedily as possible."

House arrest

Aung San Suu Kyi will be marking her birthday with the rare luxury of being free from the restrictions of house arrest.

But little has been achieved since she was freed in May. The BBC's Larry Jagan says the junta that rules the country has so far not made any attempt to talk to her.

Aung San Suu Kyi emerged as the figurehead of the pro-democracy movement in Burma in 1988.

She was held under house arrest from 1989 to 1995 and again from September 2000 to May this year.

Since her release she has so far kept a low profile and avoided gestures that could embarrass or anger the junta.

Although she is free to travel outside Rangoon she has only made one major trip, and that was a private pilgrimage rather than an effort to rally political support.

Nasreen's comments have angered traditionalists

Bangladesh court sentences Taslima Sunday, 13 October, 2002, 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK

By Moazzem Hossain BBC, Dhaka

The Bangladeshi feminist writer, Taslima Nasreen, has been given a one-year prison sentence on a charge of writing derogatory comments about Islam in several of her books.

This is the first sentence against the writer who was forced to flee the country in 1994 after receiving death threats from Muslim extremists.

Taslima Nasreen's criticism of traditional Islamic values and customs angered many hard line Islamic groups in Bangladesh.

In 1994, one of the groups put a price on her head after she reportedly called for revising Koran to give more freedom to Muslim women.

Ms Nasreen has denied she made any such comment.

Hard line

Taslima Nasreen was tried in her absence by a magistrate court in Gopalganj, nearly 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the capital Dhaka.

The case was filed by a hard line Islamic leader, Mohammad Dabiruddin, who heads a local religious school.

Mr Dabiruddin accused Taslima Nasreen of writing offensive comments about Islam - and magistrate Shah Alam found her guilty of hurting the sentiments of the Muslims.

In 1994 Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's government charged Taslima Nasreen of blasphemy for some of her controversial comments about Islam.


She fled after being granted bail in the case and has been living in exile - mostly in France and Sweden - ever since.

In 1998 Ms Nasreen returned to Bangladesh to visit her ailing mother, but left the country after her mother's death.

The Bangladeshi Government has already banned three of her books - "Shame", "My Childhood", and "Wild Wind".

The government said the books might hurt the people's religious sentiments.

Senior lawyers say that in order to appeal against the verdict, Taslima Nasreen must first surrender before the trial court.

Algerian Islamic students shot dead Wednesday, 16 October, 2002, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK

More than 1,000 have died in attacks this year Thirteen students have been killed at a Koranic school by suspected Muslim fundamentalists, the Algerian security forces say.

Another two were killed in a separate incident on Tuesday night at a fake roadblock in the same region of Chlef, 200 km west of the capital, Algiers.

The latest killings bring to more than 50 the number of people killed this month in similar attacks, which the Algerian Government has blamed on the hardline Armed Islamic Group (GIA).

This is the first time religious students have been the target of violence since Islamic militants launched a war against the authorities in 1992, says the BBC's Mohamed Arezki Himeur in Algiers.


The students, aged between 14 and 20, were training to become religious leaders, or imams.

They were lined up against a wall and shot dead.

A fourteenth student was seriously injured, but managed to escape.

"This is the most abominable crime that has been committed in our region over the last 10 years.

"No-one would have thought that a Koranic school, which teaches God's message, would be the target of such an attack," a local resident told the BBC.

The killings are the first since last Thursday's local elections, which the government had hoped would calm the violence.

More than 1,100 have been killed in attacks since the beginning of this year.

More than 100,000 have died since the violence started 10 years ago, when the authorities cancelled elections Muslim fundamentalists were poised to win.

US may ban genital mutilation parents Tuesday, 1 October, 2002, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK

Many parents have stopped performing the ritual

By Andrew Harding BBC East Africa Correspondent

US authorities have threatened to ban dozens of Somali refugee families from emigrating to America because the parents have mutilated the genitals of their young daughters.

The traditional circumcision rite is believed to have been carried out recently on girls as young as two after their families were told the act was illegal in the United States.

Some 12,000 Somalis, members of a persecuted minority, are being held in camps in Kenya en route to the US.

The ordeal usually happens at night.

The young girls are held down on the floor by their families - the mutilation takes place without any anaesthetic.


In recent months, dozens of Somali parents, preparing to move to the US, have been rushing to subject their daughters to this agonizing ritual, knowing it is illegal in America.

The American embassy in Nairobi confirmed on Tuesday that this was indeed happening, but it was not sure of the numbers involved.

A spokesman, Tom Hart, condemned the traditional circumcision ceremony as a crime.

He said the rules of cultural sensitivity do not apply here, and he announced that any family found to have mutilated their daughters in the last few months would be investigated and probably barred from resettling in America.

The Somalis involved are members of an ethnic minority - former slaves now persecuted in their own war-torn country.

The United States has agreed to allow the entire ethnic Bantu group to emigrate to America en masse - the first families are due to fly out within a few months.

The Somalis are currently being held in two isolated refugee camps in northern Kenya.

Aid workers have reported incidents of mass circumcisions - serious infections and even death are not uncommon.

In one particularly shocking case, two girls aged two were reported to have been mutilated.

The rush to carry out the traditional rite-of-passage ceremony reportedly began last November and December, when the families were first informed that they would not be allowed to do it in America.

But since then, according to one aid official, an aggressive public information campaign has persuaded many parents to change their minds.

Friday, 4 October, 2002, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK US rethinks genital mutilation threat

Many parents have stopped performing the ritual

By Andrew Harding BBC East Africa Correspondent

The American authorities appear to be backing away from a threat not to allow into the United States Somali refugees who have genitally mutilated their daughters.

A group of about 12,000 Somali Bantus are currently waiting in a refugee camp in northern Kenya and have been given the right to emigrate en masse to the US.

But earlier this week the American embassy in Nairobi confirmed that some of those refugees had been rushing to circumcise their young daughters, having learned that the practice is illegal in the US.

An embassy spokesman said those involved would be investigated and the families probably barred from emigrating.

But now it seems doubts are surfacing.

Rite of passage

The American State Department is trying to tread carefully over what is becoming a very emotive issue.

It has put out a brief statement saying that it condemns the "abhorrent" practice of female genital mutilation and that it is seriously considering the next step.

Privately, aid workers have been critical of the American threat, saying it is "unworkable" and pointing out that the rush to circumcise has more or less stopped anyway following a series of recent publicity campaigns.

The United Nations Refugee Agency has gone further.

A spokesman, Emmanuel Nyabei, said there was nothing unique about what the Bantu Somalis were doing to their daughters.

The same thing has happened in the past, he said, with other groups waiting to emigrate.

The circumcisions, carried out without anaesthetic, are illegal in Kenya and the United States.

But the practice, an ancient rite of passage, is widespread in Somalia.

The 12,000 Bantus are members of an ethnic minority, the descendants of slaves who are persecuted in their country.

The first families are due to fly out to the US within a few months.

Amina Lawal's lawyers are hopeful

Nigeria's stoning sentence confirmed Monday, 19 August, 2002, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK An Islamic appeal court has upheld a sentence of death by stoning for adultery against a Nigerian woman.

Amina Lawal was found guilty by a court in Katsina state in March after bearing a child outside marriage.

Such strict punishments have been introduced in the majority Muslim states of northern Nigeria over the past two years.

The BBC's Dan Isaacs, reporting from the court in Funtua, northern Nigeria, says Monday's ruling has come as a surprise and human rights groups have promised to take the case to the Supreme Court.

Sharia punishments have provoked a great deal of controversy both within the country and abroad.


Amina Lawal is a young divorced woman and her baby daughter, Wasila, was born out of wedlock.

Under strict Islamic laws now in place in her home state of Katsina, this was sufficient for her to be convicted of the crime of "zina" or adultery.

No one has yet been stoned to death for adultery in Nigeria.

A woman convicted under very similar circumstances last year won her appeal a few months ago.


Supporters of Sharia say they will not be deflected from upholding laws they see as the will of God, despite strong pressure from the federal government, which has declared them unconstitutional.

In a country with as many Christians as Muslims, this is a very divisive issue, our correspondent says.

Much blood has been spilled in conflict between the two communities over the past few years and with elections approaching, it is feared that politicians on both sides of the divide could reignite the flames once again with their sectarian rhetoric.

Pregnant Nigerian seeks Sharia asylum Thursday, 22 August, 2002, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK Amina Lawal could face death by stoning A pregnant Nigerian woman has been allowed to stay in Cyprus after a court in her country upheld a sentence of death under Sharia law against a woman who had a baby outside marriage.

Authorities in Cyprus say the 21-year-old woman, who is seven months pregnant, was terrified she would face the same face if she returned home to Nigeria.

On Monday, a Sharia court in northern Nigeria upheld a sentence of death by stoning on Amina Lawal, 31, for adultery.

Ms Lawal's conviction has also triggered international criticism by human rights activists and western countries.

The introduction of Islamic law - or Sharia - in northern Nigeria's mostly Muslim states in the past two years has sparked violence in which hundreds of people have been killed.

'Possible risks'

"We will not deport this girl, bearing in mind her condition and the possible risks she may face," Interior Minister Andreas Panayiotou told Reuters news agency.

Atanda Fatimo, a computer student in Cyprus, is said to have spent two nights in police detention, but was released on Wednesday after human rights groups drew the authority's attention to Ms Lawal's case in Nigeria.

Police said she had tried to enter Ireland from Cyprus after hearing that her unborn baby would automatically win Irish citizenship if it was born there.

But she was sent back to Cyprus when Irish authorities in Dublin discovered she had a forged British passport.

"I had to look for a way to get away from my country," Reuters quoted Ms Fatimo saying on her release.

"If you are not married and you're pregnant, because of the law, they stone you to death.

"It is better for me to be alive than dead," she said.

But Ms Fatimo may still face charges of possessing faked documents.

The father of the child is said to be in Nigeria.


Australia has joined the United States and the European Union in condemning the Sharia punishment.

"If this sentence were to be carried out, it would be received with outrage in Australia and in the wider international community," Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said.

But many Nigerian Muslims reject such criticism.

The Jamatu Nasril Islam group said on Thursday:

"A billion eyes of the whole world cannot make us abandon our religion and jettison our faith as dictated by the Sharia".

Human rights groups in Nigeria have promised to take Ms Lawal's case to a higher court after an Islamic appeal court ruled against her on Monday.

They have 30 days to lodge an appeal.

This case could now end up in the supreme court in Abuja, where central government has declared such harsh Sharia judgement unconstitutional.

No one has yet been stoned to death for adultery in Nigeria.

A woman convicted under very similar circumstances last year won her appeal a few months ago.

Several thieves have however had their hands amputated.

In another high profile case in 1999, an appeal court in New York ruled in favour of a Ghanaian woman fighting deportation on the grounds that she feared female circumcision if she returned home.

Muslims make up about two thirds of the country

Rape bill angers Malaysian women Monday, 17 June, 2002, 23:20 GMT 00:20 UK

By Mangai Balasegaram In Kuala Lumpur

Women's groups in Malaysia are fighting a controversial bill proposed by an Islamic party which states that four male Muslim witnesses are needed to prove a rape.

The bill on Sharia law - the strict Islamic law - has been proposed by the government of Terengganu, a rural state in the north-east run by the opposition Islamic party, PAS.

The party has declared it wants to set up an "Islamic state".

The bill is set to face stiff opposition from the federal government led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad when it is tabled in the state assembly next month.

It is also facing legal challenges as, under the constitution, crime is a federal matter under the Penal Code.

About a dozen women's groups have formed a joint action committee to fight the bill, which they say is "perversely unjust".

Women's anger

The bill's original draft states that those who renounce their faith should be put to death, and that unmarried women who become pregnant - regardless of rape - should be whipped or stoned to death.

Sisters of Islam (Sis), which has lobbied Pas leaders on the issue, says the bill is a "total distortion" of Islamic law.

It argues that the original provision for four witnesses in hudood law was to protect women against accusations of adultery, noting that a wife of Prophet Mohamad was accused of adultery.

"This is man-made. It's barbaric," said Sharifah Zuriah Aljeffri, a founding member of Sis. "God is all-forgiving and all-merciful in the Koran. That never comes up in this bill. All they talk about is punishment."

Ivy Josiah, executive director of the Women's Aid Organisation said the bill was "clearly misogynistic".

"There's a lot of fear that women are becoming equal to men," she said.

Political motive

Terengganu's Chief Minister Mr Abdul Hadi Awang, who is also deputy president of PAS, has said the bill has been amended to take account of objections by women. But the details will not be made public until the bill is tabled on 7 July at the Terengganu State Assembly.

Political analysts say PAS is seeking to gain political mileage over Dr Mahathir's United Malays National Organization (Umno) party ahead of general elections due in 2004.

"They want to show that they are the better Muslims," said Nur Jazlan, an Umno youth council member. "This is the problem within Islam nowadays.

"Everyone is saying 'My version is better than yours'."

Religion has long been a basis for party politics in PAS, which gained strength following the sacking and jailing of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim in 1998. The party won control of two of 13 states in the 1999 election.

However, the 11 September terror attacks on the US has changed Malaysia's political balance. Dr Mahathir has consolidated his position as a moderate Muslim, gaining support among moderate Muslims and non-Muslims in the country, and strengthening ties abroad.

Earlier this month, he met Pope John Paul II to discuss peace initiatives in the Middle East.

PAS, however, was badly affected after the arrest of several suspected militants with ties to the party. Analysts say the party is no longer trying to win non-Muslim votes and is now concentrating on Islamic politics.

"They're targeting their own people in doing this," said Mr Jazlan.

Ms Sharifah Zuriah said although PAS would probably not be able to implement the bill, given the opposition against it, the fact that they were trying to do so was alarming.

"After this, what's next?" she said.

The accused men face possible death sentences

Pakistan woman tells of rape ordeal Saturday, 3 August, 2002, 17:01 GMT 18:01 UK

By Frances Harrison BBC correspondent in Islamabad

A woman allegedly sentenced to gang rape by a village council in southern Pakistan has testified at a court in Punjab's Dera Ghazi Khan town about her ordeal.

Mukhtaran Bibi described how the four men on trial dragged her into a hut and raped her, a crime for which they may face the death penalty if found guilty.

Face-to-face with the men who are on trial for raping her, Mukhtaran Bibi described how she was asked to appear before the informal village council to apologise for the alleged misdemeanour of her 12-year old brother.

He had been accused of an illicit affair with an older woman.

He says the story was concocted to cover up the fact that he had been sodomised by three men earlier in the day and threatened to report the incident.

Walking half-naked

Mukhtaran Bibi testified that when she apologised to the council, made up of village elders in Punjab's Muzaffargarh area, one man said she should be pardoned.

But another man suddenly stood up, Ms Bibi testified, and said she should be raped.

She described begging the council to save her, but they took no notice and four men raped her while hundreds of villagers did nothing to stop the assault.

Afterwards, Mukhtaran Bibi said she was forced to walk home half-naked in full public view, covered only with a piece of cloth.

Pakistani society shocked

For the next four days she says armed men prevented her family from leaving their home.

The case is being heard behind closed doors by a special anti-terrorism court which has been given three weeks to finish the trial.

The four men accused of rape could face the death penalty while 10 others alleged to have taken part in the illegal council that passed the sentence of rape themselves face prison sentences.

The case shocked Pakistani society, but a human rights organisation recently reported that 150 rapes have taken place in the same area of southern Punjab in the last six months alone.