The lack of government ministers in Sudan is getting in the way of efforts to save a 20-year-old woman from being stoned to death after she was found guilty of adultery, BBC reported. The Northeast African nation’s civilian government was overthrown by a military junta in an October 2021 coup.
In the wake of the woman’s conviction, campaigners have been calling for her release on the grounds that her trial was unfair. And though a government official also labeled the trial as a “joke”, he said they currently “don’t have a minister who can intervene to demand her release.”
The woman had been staying with her family after she parted ways with her husband in 2020. But a court in the city of Kosti convicted her of adultery in June 2022 after her husband accused her of the act a year prior. Her conviction has since been appealed. But the court is yet to make a decision. Her lawyer, Intisar Abdala, said she hopes the appeal would be successful.
“The young woman is in alright physical health but she is understandably very anxious. There’s not much more I can say as a woman lawyer who lives and works to help other women in a conservative region like Kosti,” Abdala said.
“We are awaiting a judgement from the court of appeal but nobody can tell when that will come. Waiting is our only option.”
In an interview with BBC, the head of the Violence Against Women Unit at the Ministry of Social Development, Sulaima Ishaq, said she had notified officials in the capital, Khartoum, about the case. And though she had been telling them that the convicted woman’s trial was unfair, she said the absence of government ministers had created a bottleneck.
Human rights groups also claim the woman was denied access to a lawyer during her detention. They also claim she wasn’t privy to the charges that were brought against her.
“We have grounds to believe she was illegally forced into signing a confession by the police,” Mossaad Mohamed Ali, who is the executive director of the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS), said.
Offenses such as adultery and theft are classified as hudud crimes in the Quran, BBC reported. These offenses are said to be highlighted by Allah in the holy book. And people found guilty of committing such crimes can be sentenced to death in Sudan. Punishments for hudud crimes in the Northeast African nation include flogging, amputation, hanging and stoning.
Human rights groups also said the government has not followed up on its pledge to abolish death by stoning as one of its punishment methods. “Even the most conservative politicians are against stoning,” Ishaq said. “But things take a lot of time to change here and then feed through to the courts, and women are the ones who suffer.”
To the best of the knowledge of campaigners, El Sherif Abdalla was the last woman who was convicted of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning. In the wake of her conviction, the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (Siha) and Amnesty International launched a campaign demanding her release. She was ultimately freed with her baby in 2012. But a Siha official, Hala Al-Karib, said there could be several such cases that they are not aware of.
“We are concerned that the appeal court will not rule in the young woman’s favour. We save women from these laws when the international community raises its voice and adds pressure on the Sudanese government, and that must happen again in this case,” Al-Karib said in reference to the 20-year-old woman’s case.
“This may be a shocking ruling globally, but doesn’t come as a shock to us.”