General

Sudan’s marital rape victim faces death by hanging

Murtada
Ahmed and Yosra Sabir, 7D News, May 11, 2018

Prosecution
lawyer says there is no such thing as marital rape. The sentence sparks debates
about women status in Sudan and an international outcry to save Noura.
 
A
Sudanese court on Thursday sentenced 19-year-old Noura Hussein to death by
hanging for killing her husband after he allegedly attempted to rape her. The
case sparked an international outcry to save Noura and provoked debates on
women’s status in Sudan, especially on issues of child marriage, marital rape,
marital consent and guardianship.
The
verdict was issued after the relatives of the deceased 31-year-old Abdo Ibrahim
Bashir refused to accept Deya “Blood money” and insisted on Noura being
sentenced to death. They received the death sentence with hysterical joy.
Activists and NGO workers broke down in tears of grief inside the courtroom.
The court
proceedings took place amid tight security measures in the presence of
representatives of Western embassies in Khartoum and dozens of human rights
activists and NGO workers who came to express solidarity with Noura.
Noura’s
sentence will be referred to the Court of Appeal, then to the Supreme Court
and, if necessary, to higher levels of litigation.
In an
interview with 7Dnews, Noura said her family forced her to marry her deceased
husband when she was 16 years old. She fled her family’s home and lived for
three years with her aunt in Sennar. In April 2017, at the age of 19, her
family completed the marriage ceremony and handed her over to the groom.
Noura
narrated how her husband’s relatives broke into their apartment in Khartoum,
where they were spending their honeymoon. They attacked and held her down while
he raped her in front of them. He attempted to rape her again on the second
day, which is when she stabbed him to death.
Noura
Hussain has already spent 12 months in Omdurman Women’s Prison. No one from her
family has visited her. There are claims that they moved to another part of the
country fearing revenge by the deceased family.
Adel
Mohammed Abdel Mahmoud, head of Noura’s defence team refused to comment on the
sentence. He said a statement from her defence team will be published later,
detailing their position on the sentence and the development of the litigation.
Moawia El
Khidir, former member of Noura’s defence team described the sentence as unfair.
He said, “Where the scales of justice are imbalanced and human rights are
not protected, the victim faces execution.” He added that his client does
not deserve her sentence, as she acted in self-defence.  
El Khidir
argues that the sentence against Noura contradicts Sudanese law, which
recognises “severe provocation” as possible grounds for justifiable homicide.
He identified the act of rape and attempted rape as a “severe provocation”.
Debating
the definition of rape
“There
is no such thing as marital rape. Rape is defined by adultery or sodomy. Noura
was married and there is evidence to prove it. He spent money on her for three
years,” said the prosecution lawyer, Ali Hassan Abdul Rahman.
The case
sparked a debate about the validity of the 2015 amendment to the criminal code,
which stated that rape is no longer defined by adultery or sodomy. The amended
article 149 of the Sudanese Criminal Code reads:
“There
shall be deemed to commit the offence of rape, whoever makes sexual contact by
way of penetrating a sexual organ or any object or part of the body into the
victim’s vagina or anus by way of using force, intimidation, or coercion by
fear of the use of violence, detention, psychological persecution, temptation,
or abuse of power against the person or another person, or when the crime is
committed against a person incapable of expressing consent because of natural
causes or luring-related or related to age.”
Walaa
Salah, a Sudanese legal expert, said the 2015 amendments to article 149 of the
Sudanese Criminal Code have comprehensively defined rape. “Withdrawing the
elements of intercourse, adultery and sodomy from the definition means the act
includes marital rape. It also defines the conditions of force and abuse of
power. In Noura’s case, there is an abuse of power and an element of age,
because Noura was a teenager, much younger than her husband.”
Salah
said although the amendments to the definition of rape in Sudanese law were a
huge advance the law is has not been integrated into the judicial system. She
explained, “It has been three years since the amendments of article 149 of the
Sudanese Criminal code. Extending changes to such a sensitive issue as rape
requires the training of judges and law enforcement personnel. Three years is
enough time to review the practice of the judiciary in handling such cases.”
She called for deeper sensitivity of the judiciary to rape cases.
Marriage
in Sudan: a male dominated deal
The
Sudanese Personal Status Law for Muslims 1991 allows guardians to marry their
daughters at the age of 10 years old. Women in Sudan, regardless of their age,
cannot marry without the consent of their guardians, while their guardians are
allowed to give them away in marriage without getting their consent.
In 2017,
a parliamentary proposal to include consensual marriage in the Sudanese
constitution bill of rights sparked an outcry and condemnation from religious
groups across the country. Mohamed Osman, the head of (Sudan Scholar
Corporation) addressed parliament, saying equality in marriage is against
Sharia, belonging neither to Islam nor to Sudanese tradition. He described
disobeying or ignoring guardianship in marriage as a huge sin.
Kamal
Dandarawi, former National Human Rights Commissioner in Sudan, said that the
rationale of Noura’s narrative indicates that her marriage was void from a
religious point of view because consent in marriage is crucial in Islam. He
said what happened to Noura is rape and if it was done consensually it would
have been adultery.
He added,
“The case alerts us to the necessity of reviewing the process of marriage
in Sudan, which contradicts Sharia and Islamic teachings.”
Happiness
and relief on the other side of the sentence
The
prosecution lawyer Ali Hassan Abdul Rahman, said Noura deserves the death
sentence, describing it as a fair punishment for deliberately and brutally
killing her husband.
He said
Noura lied to justify her crime and asserted that her husband did not have
intercourse with her in the presence of others.
Relatives
of the deceased expressed joy and applauded in the courtroom. Abdo’s mother,
Aisha Tagabo said, ” I am happy and relieved by the death sentence. Noura
killed my newlywed youngest son. She did not give him a chance to celebrate his
youth.”
Mohammed
Bashir, uncle of the deceased, told the court: “We all agreed in the
family that Noura should be executed. She killed our son without mercy, and we
will never forgive her”.
Bashir
told 7Dnews, “Noura is lying. She was not forced into marriage to our son.
He spent money on her and bought her three smart phones.”
Noura’s
parents have not attended any court session in the past 12 months. They are
unreachable for comment.
Solidarity
campaigns with Noura
Noura
found widespread support from activists and women’s rights advocates both
inside and outside Sudan through social networking sites.
Amnesty
International described the sentence against Noura as “intolerable cruelty”
according to Seif Magango, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for
East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
Magango
said in a statement issued yesterday 10 May, “Noura Hussein’s life-long wish
was to become a teacher but she ended up being forced to marry an abusive man
who raped and brutalised her. Now she has been given a death sentence by a
court which refuses to recognise the existence of rape within marriage.”
A
campaign under the hashtags #JusticeforNoura and #SaveNoura has been trending
among Sudanese social media users for the last week. An initiative of writing
support letters to Noura has generated hundreds of letters from around the
world. Solidarity protests supporting Noura on Saturday 12 May in Sydney,
Australia and Washington DC have been called off.
Khartoum
based journalist and human rights activist Amal Habbani said the “No To Women’s
Oppression Coalition” will relentlessly campaign to abolish the death penalty.
Habbani told 7Dnews that they will send memos to the Ministry of Justice and
the parliament of Sudan calling for the recognition of marital rape and child
marriage as crimes under Sudanese law. “We will consider asking the
deceased family for amnesty and might ask native administration leaders to
intervene as mediators.”
Habbani
mentioned that Noura will receive psychologicial support in prison to help her
overcome the trauma.
Mohamed
Ahmed, a Khartoum based activist, said he is saddened by the court sentence
against Noura. “She is not guilty and a victim. We will continue to defend her
in every possible way.” He added, “Noura is not the only victim of marital
rape, there are many Sudanese women and girls who have been subjected to such
abuses.” Ahmed said the main issue is the lack of recognition of marital
rape, not only within Sudanese law, but also at the societal level. He urged
human rights groups and activists to keep up the pressure to achieve justice
for the victims.