New York, November 26, 2002—Islamic authorities in the northern Nigerian state of Zamfara issued a fatwa urging Muslims to kill Isioma Daniel, a writer for the private daily This Day, whose November 16 article about the Miss World pageant sparked deadly riots across the country.

According to sources in the southern city of Lagos, the order to kill Daniel was passed early this morning after a meeting between members of the Zamfara State government and representatives of at least 20 Islamic organizations.

Although the newspaper had retracted the story and issued several front-page apologies, Zamfara State deputy governor Mamuda Aliyu Shinkafi insisted today that, “It is binding on all Muslims wherever they are, to consider the killing of the writer as a religious duty.”

“Freedom of expression is an international human right guaranteed to all people everywhere by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Journalists should never be threatened with violence or death because of what they write, or because of the opinions they express.”

Daniel, the style editor for the Lagos-based This Day, resigned from the paper and fled the country after repeatedly apologizing for the article, which Muslim leaders said belittled Muslim concerns about the country’s decision to host the beauty contest. The journalist wrote that the Prophet Mohammed probably would have chosen a wife from among the women competing.

More than 200 people have been killed in Kaduna State and in the federal capital, Abuja, where the pageant, now moved to London, was to take place. Violence erupted after Nigeria’s Supreme Islamic Council declared in a statement that This Day‘s article was a declaration of “total war against Islam” and called all Muslims to attack paper.

On November 20, about 500 protesters, chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great), marched to the paper’s offices in the early morning and set the building ablaze. Reuters quoted witnesses who said that the paper’s staff was not in the office at the time.

The next day, federal government spokesman Ufot Ekaette said that the publication had clearly exceeded the bounds of responsible journalism and would be punished “as provided by the law.” So far, federal authorities have taken no action against the paper. However, today, the federal government promised the fatwa against Daniel would not be enforced.

On November 23, secret police arrested and questioned Simon Kolawole, editor of This Day‘s Saturday edition, about the offending article. He remained in government custody as of November 25.

Zamfara was one of the first Nigerian states to adopt Islamic law, or Sharia, in January 2000. At least 11 more of Nigeria’s 36 states followed suit, heightening tensions in the nominally secular federal republic, which is divided between a predominantly Muslim north and a mostly Christian south.