Sudan’s stoning sentence: What is beneath religion?

By IndepthAfrica
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Jun 4th, 2012
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About Intisar Zena charges and stoning sentence by Sudan local court

By Hala Alkarib

On April 22, Sudanese judge, Sami Ibrahim Shabo sentenced to death by stoning a young woman accused of Zina (adultery). Her name is: Intisar Sharif Abdalla, married and a mother of three little children. The judegment itself is ruthless under any Islamic Sharia and Fiqh interpretation; stoning hasn’t been applied to a woman for adultery in Sudan despite the country’s fundamentalist religious legal system. The Islamic Fiqh Hudud in crimes (corporal punishment) such as cutting of limbs, the punishment for theft, and stoning to death, the punishment of Zina (adultery) are silently suspended, yet not lifted from the criminal code and remain present in Sudan’s legal system.

Intisar was accused of having a relationship and being impregnated by a man who wasn’t her husband. After being reported by her brother, initially she and her co-accused both denied the charges. Later the case was reopened again by the brother and Intisar confessed to committing adultery. The most disturbing aspect of this case is that the admission of guilt and judicial sentencing comes following a period of sustained beatings by her brother who brought forward the case. The absence of legal representation and clarification of the procedures for the woman in question, whose first language is not Arabic, is equally troublesome. She was taken to court where Judge Sami Ibrahim Shabo of Ombada General Criminal Court in Omdurman city of greater Khartoum state, sentenced her to stoning to death after one court session. Lawyers only gained access to her after the judegment was made. The man co-accused with Intisar was released based on his mere denial of the charges of Zina!

Intisar’s case highlights the fickle application of international human rights conventions and legislation that Sudan has voluntarily become party to, such as the International Convention on Civil and Political  Rights and the Convention  against Torture and the African Charter and its protocol on the rights of women. This case demonstrates the difficulty of reconciling Sudan’s current legal jurisdiction and its regional and international obligations as a member of international and regional communities. This contradiction is as well reflected in the massive polarisation taking place in Sudan at the moment as well as challenges to peaceful coexistence between the different nations inside the country.   Furthermore, the stoning judgment stands against all the values, traditions and heritage of the Sudanese. Given the fact that the application of Zina has so far been dormant in Sudan, this case ought to be read within the broader political and cultural dynamics at work in Sudan currently, and in particular the religious discourses out of which justification for Zina is derived. These discourses, which  I briefly outline  below, point to  the  fact  that  there is more at play than the moral justifications given for this harsh judgement.   There are significant and complex differences among the Islamic Fiqh schools regarding the conditions required for a valid Zina confession and for testimonial evidence. These differences are based on the varying levels of different arguments with in Fiqh schools. For example, while some Islamic schools require the Zina confession to be uttered four separate times and require the presence of four witnesses during the act of Zina, the Maliki school (dominant in Sudan) considers either one’s confession or the presence of four witnesses as sufficient.

Then again, in cases of pregnancy as a result of Zina, the majority of opinion in the Maliki Fiqh School agrees that the duration of a woman’s pregnancy can last up to seven years before she is subjected to court trial.   A closer look at the classical Islamic schools, mainly the Sunah schools (Madahib) and the scholarship that emerged in the 8th century on the Islamic legal system shows that, they all tried to prevent the conviction of women for Zina and avoided stoning as a brutal form of punishment. It is unacceptable that now, 12 centuries later, a judge sitting in Sudan, or in any other part of the Muslim world for that matter, would rule out all accumulated knowledge, wisdom and various accumulated attempts of interpretations given the complexity of the issue, and choose to sentence a young woman to death.

The sentencing of Intisar comes in accordance with Article 146 of the Sudanese Criminal Code. However, ultimately what the Islamic Sharia of Sudan’s criminal code reveals is the deeply rooted discriminatory nature of Sudan legal system generated from the ruling regime’s ideology which perceives women as purveyors of moral wrongs and seeks to banish illegal aliens.

The repression of women in Sudan is illustrated in the Sudanese legislative system’s approach towards women. Both Sudan’s criminal and family codes are engineered through a mix of criminal and moral prohibitions which blur the distinction between the creation of law in the service of promoting a particular public interest and the imposition of moral precepts based on specific ideological conviction. The de-anchoring of the law from a clear standard of general public interest leaves Sudan’s legislation in relation to personal matters particularly open to exploitation as a tool to express the temporary interests of the authorities in control. A good example is the public order police of Sudan’s, Special Forces that are assigned to terrorise women and interrogate them by observing their personal behaviour, their dress code, their mobility and their exposure in the public sphere. Ultimately the ideology behind the articles and the application of the Sudanese criminal code is meant to enforce the tyranny of the ruling regime through alienating women by crippling their public participation, both of which have a paralysing effect on society as a whole.

Politically, Intisar’s sentencing is significant. She is originally from South Kordofan, the most recent region where civil conflict erupted in Sudan. Following the independence of South Sudan gender and racial profiling and discrimination is dominating the current political scene in the country. In addition, the fluidity of the Sudan’s current legal system poses a serious threat to thousands of women currently living in the country, enduring and suffering under the violence generated by Sudan’s unjust legal system and its brutal enforcement.

This violence ranges from lashing to long term imprisonments of poor women street vendors, students, and others working in the fringes of society, all of whom are regularly subjected to accusations of prostitution, intention to commit Zina, and indecent dressing. The rationale behind Sudan’s criminal code is based on vague definitions of guilt, yet it very assertively delegates the power of judgment to the enforcers to interpret it as they wish, in line with the reactionary political agenda.

Intisar is currently shackled by metal chains and imprisoned in Omdurman women’s prison in Sudan together with her four month old baby, where she is being re-victimised and burdened again by the complex layers of Sudan’s heavy political baggage and an unjust legal system.

The writer is the Director of the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA)

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