Lawyer urges acquittal of woman on zina charges

A South African woman being tried on charges of illicit sex — zina under Sharia law — and abortion should be freed because legal requirements to convict her have not been met, her lawyer argues.

SHARJAH // A South African woman being tried on charges of illicit sex - zina under Sharia law - and abortion should be freed because legal requirements to convict her have not been met, her lawyer argued yesterday.

Sharjah prosecutors have charged MB with zina and aborting a four-month-old foetus by ingesting abortion pills. She had become pregnant after consensually agreeing to an adulterous relationship with an unidentified man, they alleged.

Sharjah public prosecutors were asked to present four eyewitnesses in the case of MB, a 25-year-old receptionist arrested after checking into Al Qassimi hospital in Sharjah on September 7 while haemorrhaging profusely.

Abortion is strictly prohibited under UAE and Islamic law, except in extreme circumstances.

The defence lawyer, Haroon Tahlak, asked the Sharjah Court of First Instance to acquit MB after prosecutors failed to produce the eyewitnesses, a Sharia requirement for one to be convicted on the zina charge.

He also dismissed the abortion accusation, saying the prosecution had not provided a legal doctor's examination report as proof.

"This is a Sharia court and the witnesses we need here must have seen MB in action," he told the court. "Four people seeing, your Honour, not two or three. Sharia law does not base evidence on people's thoughts."

Mr Tahlak urged the court to be lenient with his client, a non-Muslim raised in a Christian country whom he said had little prior knowledge of Sharia law.

He cited Islamic hadiths proving his argument. According to Sharia law, even Muslims who have committed zina without knowledge of it being illegal can avoid punishment.

Regarding the charge of abortion, Mr Tahlak said the pills she ingested had not been identified forensically as abortion pills, so the charge was unsubstantiated. He also said MB's work as a receptionist involved her climbing two flights of stairs every day, which may have resulted in the miscarriage.

The punishment for committing adultery is 100 lashes for unmarried persons and stoning to death for married persons.

A December 2006 amendment to the federal penal code prevents non-Muslims from being lashed. However, this amendment revokes the punishment under federal law in non-Sharia cases, such as drink driving. The Sharjah legal system views adultery as a Sharia case, even if the offence was committed by a non-Muslim.

According to prosecution records, an ambulance was called for MB by her flatmates after she started to haemorrhage. Tests revealed that MB had undergone a second-trimester abortion. Doctors reported the results to police, who immediately detained MB.

MB told prosecutors she had met an American guest at a Dubai hotel during the summer, who invited her for an evening out. During the course of the evening, records showed, the woman engaged in a sexual relationship and never saw the man again.

The case was adjourned until December 29.

* With reporting by Awad Mustafa

amustafa@thenational.ae

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Engine: 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6

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