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.