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Nigerian Court Sentences Danish National to Death by Hanging

FILE - People are seen outside of the Federal High Court in Abuja, Nigeria, Dec. 2, 2021.
FILE - People are seen outside of the Federal High Court in Abuja, Nigeria, Dec. 2, 2021.

ABUJA — A Nigerian high court has sentenced a Danish national, Peter Nielsen, to death by hanging. Nielsen was convicted and sentenced Friday for the murder of his Nigerian wife and their young daughter in 2018. Rights activists, who have protested the murder, praised the court's ruling.

Justice Bolanle Okikiolu-Ighile of the Lagos high court announced the verdict and the sentence for 54-year-old Peter Nielsen Friday at a hearing that lasted more than five hours.

The justice said evidence from an autopsy revealed that Nielsen's wife, Zainab, and their three-year-old daughter died of head injuries and suffocation. He said analysis of Zainab’s fingertips showed she had struggled to free herself from her killer’s grip, and that traces of DNA found on her skin were consistent with Nielsen’s.

Nielsen has been standing trial since June 2018 after he was arrested on charges of murdering his Nigerian wife, Zainab and their daughter in their home in Lagos. Nielsen pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The killing triggered criticism from women rights groups and they have been monitoring the progress of the trial since then.

Activist Josephine Okei-Odumakin, president of Women Arise Initiative, attended Friday's session.

"This will serve as a reference point, it's also going to protect women the more and as much as possible reduce gender-based violence which is on the rise and I'm sure that with this landmark judgement, a lot of people will have a rethink," she said.

Okei-Odumakin noted the bodies of Nielsen's wife and daughter have remained in the mortuary since their death four years ago.

Nigerian courts continue to issue death sentences in cases such as killings, kidnappings, or armed robbery, despite a growing debate on whether or not to abolish the measure.

Earlier this year, some advocates urged Nigerian authorities to annul the death penalty.

Human rights lawyer Martin Obono says strict measures like the death penalty are helpful in deterring crimes.

"In terms of deterrent, I think a lot of people would've killed people if they knew that they'd get away with it and just have life imprisonment and maybe one day the governor or president will come and pardon you,” he said.

Fifty-four countries around the world, including Nigeria, allow the death penalty.

Nigerian authorities say there are more than 3,000 prisoners awaiting execution, the highest number in Africa. But the last time an execution was carried out in Nigeria was in 2016.