Another case of stoning as Sudanese women continue to be caught up in the chaos

Published: 3 Sep 2012
Source: Hala Alkarib

In July 2012, a 23 year old woman Laila Ibrahim Issa Jamool from Dar Hamer, a pastoralist tribe of Sudan’s South Kordofan region, found herself imprisoned in Omdurman women’s prison with her sick child who is suffering from asthma. Laila’s family moved to Khartoum because of conflict, poverty and the growing destruction of livelihoods in her home – the legacy of neglect by the government for the 30 years or more. It has created an exodus of people from rural to urban areas, which has disintegrated communities and shattered millions of lives.

After Laila fled her marital home due to family disputes and petitioned for a divorce, her husband expected her family to repay him the 9000 Sudanese pounds he spent on the wedding. But her family could not afford to pay the reparation amount demanded. So Laila’s husband went to the police station and accused her of Zina (adultery), possibly in the hope of acquiring compensation. As a result, on 10 July the Criminal Court in Hay Alnasir-Khartoum sentenced Laila to death by stoning for adultery under Article 146 of the Sudanese Penal Code 1991.

All Laila was trying to do was to get a divorce – a matter of personal choice that is allowed even under the most militant Islamic jurisdiction. Instead,  her life is in danger.

Although stoning has always been part of the Sudan Criminal Code of 1991, the only known cases in which someone has been sentenced to death by stoning were three cases during 2007, and then the latest case of Intisar Al Sharif in April 2012 (see previous blog). In all of these instances, the cases were either dismissed or the sentencing was suspended. In the case of Intisar, she was released after all the charges had been dismissed in June 2012 due to insufficient evidence. Prior to1991 there were no documented cases of sentencing by stoning that have taken place in Sudan.

Laila’s trial, according to her lawyers, lacked the minimum standards of a fair trial. Laila was not aware of the prejudice and the hostility of the legal institution towards women, she had no understanding of the law and, most importantly, she was not allowed legal representation or legal advice throughout the process of her trial. She sat helplessly in the dock while being subjected to the interrogation and arrogance of the court until the sentencing was passed. Like Intisar, it took Laila days to understand that stoning means brutal execution. She is still unable to comprehend why.

The recent appearance of cases of stoning in Sudan is far from a coincidence. It is generated and legitimised by the spreading culture of violence and discrimination which has intensified in the aftermath of the South Sudanese declaration of independence. The escalation of systemic violence against women in Sudan is a serious indication of the country’s withdrawal from its international and regional obligations and a reflection of the Sudanese state becoming lost in-between corridors of isolation and violence.

The current legal framework in Sudan fails to reflect the diversity of the Sudanese people. It is based on a restricted understanding of political Islam which, in the context of a multi-ethnic state, aims to strip people of their cultural identity and isolate them further from the world around them. This legal framework does not relate to nor does it mirror Sudanese society. In particular, migration to central cities is putting rural Sudanese people, particularly women, into vulnerable situations, making them the easy prey for a hostile legal system that has no understanding of their traditional inherited cultural practices employed for decades to cope with social problems and resolve family disputes. In this context, women’s lives and dignity are constantly undermined and compromised.

Sudan is claimed to be undergoing a constitutional process. But unless this process is transparent and inclusive of the views of the Sudanese people; is serious about integrating regional and international jurisdiction; and leads to a complete legal reform, the country will continue sinking into isolation and brutality.

Regions: North and Horn of Africa, Sudan
Type: IRRI Blog