Pageant organizers have come under fire from beauty queens on one side, who are threatening to boycott in protest of the stoning sentence, and Nigeria's Muslim groups on the other, who are opposed to an event that they see as immoral being held in the midst of sub-Saharan Africa's largest Muslim population.
Miss World president Julia Morley canceled an inspection tour in eastern Nigeria to meet with government ministers on the case of Amina Lawal, said Guy Murray-Bruce, owner of the pageant's Nigerian franchise rights. Lawal was sentenced to death by stoning by an Islamic court for having sex outside of marriage. The international outcry surrounding Lawal's stoning sentence has cast a shadow over the pageant, slated for Nov. 30 in Abuja, Nigeria's capital.
Morley met Thursday with Abba Gana, the minister responsible for Abuja, Murray-Bruce said. "We are appalled that such an action might take place," Morley said in a statement. "This is a situation that we have never come across before." Morley said organizers were monitoring Lawal's case and "are confident justice will prevail."
Organizers had been scheduled Thursday to inspect resorts in Calabar in eastern Cross Rivers state that will be visited by contestants. Murray-Bruce said organizers would carry out planned inspections at sites in the southern oil city of Port Harcourt on Friday.
The European Parliament's committee on women's rights on Wednesday unanimously approved a motion calling for a boycott of the pageant to protest Lawal's sentence. Participants from France and Belgium have already announced their withdrawal from the event. "They discussed the Shariah issue," Murray-Bruce said after Morley's meeting with the minister. "She is asking people in authority to reassure everybody nothing will happen."
Gana told organizers he was confident Lawal's sentence would be overturned by higher courts, Murray-Bruce said.
Officials in Cross Rivers state said the international outrage over Lawal's sentence had not affected their preparations. "We won't let this unfortunate case upset the icing on our cake," Cross Rivers government spokesman Gabriel Onah said.
Nigerian Muslim groups have also threatened to disrupt the pageant which they say is immoral and should not be held in Nigeria during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Lawal's sentence is scheduled to be carried out in 2004 after she finishes weaning her baby. Several governments and human rights groups around the world have urged President Olusegun Obasanjo's administration to intercede. Lawal is the second Nigerian woman to be condemned to death for having sex out of wedlock under Islamic law. The first woman, Safiya Hussaini, had her sentence overturned in March on her first appeal.
Nigeria applied to host the pageant after Nigerian Agbani Darego became the first black African to be crowned Miss World last year.