February 20, 2013 (KHARTOUM) – An 18-year-old Ethiopian woman who said she was gang raped by seven men in Sudan has been found guilty of committing indecent acts and is also facing a possible jail term for immigration offences.
- Women’s advocates say existing legislation in Sudan severely limits the ability of victims of sexual violence to seek justice (ST)
According to a press statement issued by the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) on Thursday, the woman was sentenced to one month in prison, which has been suspended, and fined 5000 Sudanese pounds (about US$961).
The woman, who was three months pregnant at the time of the attack, had been facing a possible death sentence after being charged with adultery and prostitution.
However, the court accepted that the woman was divorced and thus the charges of adultery were not applied.
SIHA said the woman’s conviction of indecent acts sends a message that sexual violence is in part the fault of the victim.
“This verdict reflects the substantial challenges in enabling victims of sexual violence to pursue justice. It will also serve to prevent future victims from speaking out and seeking assistance and entrenches a culture of impunity for perpetrators,” Hala Elkarib, the SIHA Network’s regional director, said.
It’s alleged the attack took place in August 2013 when the woman was lured to an empty property while searching for a rental home in Omdurman, which neighbours the capital, Khartoum, where she was pinned down and raped by seven men.
The court convicted three men of adultery, who were sentenced to 100 lashes, while a further two were convicted of indecent acts and sentenced to 40 lashes and ordered to pay fines. A sixth person was convicted of distributing indecent material, while another man was set free due to insufficient evidence.
Those subject to lashings had their sentences carried out immediately afterwards in a closed court session.
The court has also threatened to charge the victim, who is now nine months pregnant, for illegally entering Sudan, which carries a maximum jail sentence of two years. If convicted she would be deported to Ethiopia after serving her sentence.
The woman, along with the seven perpetrators, was arrested and charged in January after footage of the attack filmed by one of the men was circulated on social media sites. The charges related to Articles 153 and 154 of Sudan’s criminal code, pertaining to the making and distribution of indecent material and indecent behaviour.
However, the charges were upgraded earlier this month to include Articles 151 referring to scandalous acts, 154 relating to prostitution, and 146 which refers to adultery, which carries a possible sentence of death by stoning.
Following her arrest the woman was held in a bare police cell, with authorities denying requests for her to be transferred to a medical facility.
The attorney-general also blocked the woman from filing a complaint of rape as she was under investigation for other criminal offences and did not report the incident immediately.
However, it was later revealed a police officer who the woman spoke to following her attack, decided against pursuing her complaint because it was the Eid Al Fitr public holiday.
The women’s advocacy group said the case has raised multiple challenges regarding the treatment of rape victims and their capacity to pursue justice.
It says Sudanese legislation, in respect of Zina (adultery), effectively criminalises all sexual relationships outside of the marital bond, and is open to arbitrary interpretation, meaning even victims of sexual violence are liable to be charged.
The case has highlighted Sudan’s treatment of migrant women, who remain among the most marginalised sectors of society, vulnerable to violence, abuse and persecution.
“The Sudanese judiciary today has demonstrated its incapacity to protect the most vulnerable in society and instead attempt to delegitimise those that experience abuse at the hands of its citizens,” said Elkarib. The levelling of immigration charges against the victim further denies her protection by the state and protracts the punishment and emotional stress against her whilst she has been subjected to the most brutal of crimes,” she added.