Sudanese civil society and human rights activists are deeply concerned about a court ruling that has sentenced a Sudanese woman to death by stoning. The woman, Intisar Sharif Abdallah, was found guilty of adultery by the Ombada criminal court, just west of the capital, on April 22.
The woman, thought to be about 20 years old or possibly younger, is being held in a Khartoum prison together with her five month old baby.
Illustration by Khalid Albaih
The verdict, Qatar-based news agency Al Jazeera says, raised concerns that Sudan might start applying Islamic law more strictly following the secession of mostly non-Muslim South Sudan last year”.
In mid-2011, Sudanese President, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, said that, once South Sudan had seceded, Sudan would go ahead with plans to adopt an entirely Islamic constitution and strengthen Islamic law.
Previously a 2005 peace deal between the two halves of the country had set up an interim constitution which limited Islamic law to the north and recognised the cultural and social diversity of the Sudanese people”.
But as news agency Reuters reported at the time, al-Bashir told students in a speech in Khartoum that, 98 percent of the people are Muslims and the new constitution will reflect this. The official religion will be Islam and Islamic law the main source (of the constitution).”
This means that in Sudan alcohol abuse and adultery may still be punished by lashes and other punishments. However it’s also worth noting that these punishments and others like them were previously so unpopular that they helped in the overthrow of the former Sudanese regime.
Journalist and women’s rights activist, Sarah Daifallah.
Meanwhile the court case for Abdallah has also been criticised. The trial was held in Arabic and this is not the defendant’s native tongue. Lawyers acting for the woman, who preferred not to be named, told Al Jazeera that their client was in dire need of a psychiatrist because she appears to be in a state of shock from the social and family pressures she is under”.
Journalist and women’s rights activist, Sarah Daifallah, says this kind of thing is actually not as uncommon as one might first think within Sudanese society.
There are many similar stories but often they do not reach the courts”, Daifallah explains. However Daifallah thought the sentence would not be carried out. Although it applies in Islamic [Sharia] law, this has not happened under this regime.”
Al-Buraq al-Nazir al-Warraq, information officer at the Salema Centre for Women’s Research and Studies, believes that the regime’s extremists are using this case as a way of confronting regime moderates, with the story having been highlighted in newspapers belonging to the extremist groups.
Information officer at the Salema Centre for Women’s Research and Studies, al-Buraq al-Nazir al-Warraq.
Other local media appears to have failed to give the case much attention.
But al-Warraq also thought that the sentence would not be carried out. Similar stoning sentences have not been implemented in the past either”, he noted before calling for a revision of a number of articles within the current Sudanese criminal code that infringed on human rights.
No matter that the sentence is unlikely to be carried out, he says as long as these laws remain unchanged, execution by stoning will continue to be a threat”.
In a May 2012 statement the US-based organisation Human Rights Watch writes that Abdallah was sentenced under article 146 of Sudan’s Criminal Act of 1991, which provides that the penalty for adultery by a married person is execution by stoning, and the penalty for an unmarried person is 100 lashes”.
She initially denied the charge of adultery but later confessed after she was allegedly beaten by a family member. The court relied solely on her coerced confession to convict and sentence her in a single court session, while the man alleged to have committed adultery with her denied the charges and was released.”
Human Rights Watch also noted that Sudan remains one of only seven countries that allow the sentence of death by stoning as a punishment.
Sudanese judges have sentenced several women to death by stoning in recent years, but courts have overturned all the sentences on appeal”, the organisation wrote, before calling upon the Sudanese government to remove the laws with the potential for such a sentence.