Stoning: Interview with Sudanese Human Rights Lawyer Hikma Ahmed

In 2012, two women in Sudan were sentenced to death by stoning. Layla Ibrahim Issa, who had a six-month old infant, was sentenced to stoning under Article 146 of the Sudanese Criminal Code.  Our legal centre worked on Layla’s case. Layla’s husband placed a complaint against her, saying that she bore a child from another man in his absence. Initially she had no lawyer, and was not assigned one by the judge. Luckily, lawyers from the centre met with Layla, represented her, and drafted an appeal which was accepted and resulted in her release.

Stoning is applied in cases where women and men commit adultery, however it is always the women that are convicted, and men escape it.

In general, we find that stoning is not accepted widely, due to its savagery. There is a tacit agreement that this practice is not acceptable, but there are also those who neither support nor oppose it.  Most women activists through their feminist and human rights work do not perceive this as an ‘Islamic punishment’ because it is not mentioned in the Quran, because it is inhumane, and because it is in contradiction to international conventions. Of course, there remain proponents of stoning.

There is a huge debate about stoning and attempt to reform all hudud laws under the current regime. However, all efforts to abolish or reform laws have been unwelcome. The congress of the Sudan’s People Liberation Movement proposed an initiative to reform/abolish the stoning punishment on the premise that it is not part of the Islamic jurisprudence, but this proposal was rejected by ministers. Sheikh Hassan al-Turabi also issued a fatwa via the press saying that stoning is not mentioned in the Qur'an.

This law, along with other gender-discriminatory laws, are violent against women. They make them prisoners to a cycle of fear, pushing them away from the productive realm, from work, and away from independence that enables women to be decision-makers. The patriarchal system intimidates women and works to guarantee their restriction. The common thread between all these laws is the hegemonic patriarchal system.

There are many strong positions against all forms of discrimination and violence against women in Sudan. Several civil society organizations are making institutional efforts to reform the laws. Numerous male and female lawyers offer legal assistance, which has massively contributed to assisting victims that lack the awareness and money to defend themselves.

However, strategies need to be devised  to launch large campaigns to expose these punishments and discuss Sudan’s role as a signatory of the international conventions. There needs to be an activation of the mechanisms through the African Commission.

Finally, internationally, HR organizations can play a helpful role through documentation of these HR violations through writing, reports, and putting pressure on governments, and participating in campaigns and revealing the cases to the international community.

Hikma Ahmed is a human rights lawyer based in Khartoum. She is founder and director  of the Aid Centre for Legal Consultations and Advocacy estabilished in 2011 to provide financial and legal support to the vulnerable members of society who would otherwise have no way of achieving justice.