By Hala Al karib
August 25, 2012 — In July 2012, a 23 year old woman Laila Ibrahim Issa Jamool from Dar Hamer, a pastoralist tribe of Sudan Kordofan’s region found herself shackled inside Omdurman women prison holding on to her sick infant who is suffering from Asthma. Laila’s family moved to Khartoum as a result of conflict, impoverishment and the growing destruction of livelihoods in rural Sudan triggered by lack of spending on development which has overwhelmed Sudan country sides over the past 30 years or more. The exodus of people from the rural to urban areas has disintegrated communities and shattered millions of lives.
After Laila fled her marriage home due to family disputes and later demanded for divorce, her ex husband expected her family to repay him the 9000 Sudanese pounds he spent on his wedding to Laila. The poor family could not pay the reparation amount demanded. Blinded by his anger, laila’s ex husband went to the police station accusing Laila of Zina (adultery), possibly in the hope to acquire compensation. Subsequently, on 10th of July the Criminal Court in Hay Alnasir-Khartoum sentenced Laila to death by stoning for adultery (Zina) under Article 146 of the Sudanese Penal Code 1991.
Laila was only attempting to get a divorce, a personal legitimate matter that is feasible in the most militant Islamic jurisdiction, the result is; her life has been put on the line.
Although stoning has always been part of Sudan criminal code of 1991, the only known sentencing by stoning cases taken place in Sudan were the three cases during 2007 and then the latest case of Intisar Al Sharif in April 2012. All the cases were either dismissed or the sentencing was suspended including the latest case of Intisar who went through a similar experience last May and was released after all the charges being dismissed in June 2012. Prior to 1991 there were no documented cases of sentencing by stoning that have taken place in Sudan.
Laila’s trial according to her lawyers’ appeal is lacking the minimum standards of a fair trial. Like the case of Intisar Al sharif and all the other cases from 2007, none of the women have had any comprehension of the risk of facing the current Sudan legal system and being accused of Zina. Laila was not aware of the prejudice and the hostility of the legal institution towards women, she has no understanding of the law and most importantly, she was not allowed legal representation or legal advice all through the process of her trial. She sat helplessly 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 ongoing appearance of cases of stoning in Sudan lately is far from being a coincidence. It’s mostly generated and legitimized by the spreading of the culture of violence and discrimination intensified after South Sudan declaration of independence. The escalation of the 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 Sudan’s situation losing direction between corridors of isolation and violence.
The current legal framework of Sudan is developed in isolation from the Sudanese people. It is generated based on the restricted essence of political Islam, aiming at striping people of their cultural identity and isolating them further from the world around them. This legal framework does not relate nor does it fit into Sudan societies. Forced migration to central cities is positioning rural Sudan people, particularly the women in a vulnerable situation making them the easy hunt for a hostile legal system that has no understanding of their traditionally inherited cultural practices employed for decades to cope with social problems and resolve family disputes.
Within this current Sudan jurisdiction, women’s lives and dignity is constantly undermined and compromised. This is evident particularly in relation to the 1991 Sudan criminal code which carries serious misogyny trends manifested in its articles and proceedings. It contains a mix of criminal and moral prohibitions based on specific manipulated interpretations of Islamic Shariah articles and ideological conviction. The de-anchoring of the law from a clear standard of general public interest leaves the articles of the criminal code particularly open to exploitation as a tool to express the temporary interests of the authorities in control.
Sudan is claimed to be undergoing a constitutional process. Unless this process is transparent and inclusive of the views of the Sudanese people and serious about integrating regional and international jurisdiction and to initiate a complete legal reform, the country will continue sinking into the dilemmas of isolation and brutality.
The author is Regional Director of the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA Network)