When she was 18, Noura Hussein’s husband raped her. Now she faces the death penalty for attempting to protect herself, activists say.
Hussein fatally stabbed her husband, Abdulrahman Mohamed Hammad, last year in what her lawyers say was an act of self-defense. Last week, a court in Sudan sentenced her to death by hanging after she was found guilty in April of premeditated murder.
The case has put international attention on the plight of young women and girls who are forced into marriage, abused by their husbands and abandoned by their families.
Hussein has spent the past year in prison, but her ordeal began in 2014, when her parents forced her to marry Hammad. She ran away to live with an aunt for three years, but activists say her father lured her back home in 2017 and compelled her to get married.
When her husband attempted to consummate the union, Hussein resisted, and Hammad raped her with the help of his brother and two male cousins, who pinned her chest and legs, Hussein’s lawyer Adil Mohamed Al-Imam told CNN.
The next morning, when Hussein was alone with Hammad, he again forced himself on her, but she fought back, fatally stabbing him. She went to her family immediately after, and they turned her in to authorities.
‘The most cruel of punishments’
Rights groups, activists and international bodies have condemned the decision to sentence Hussein to death and have called on the Sudanese government to pardon her.
Seif Magango is Amnesty International’s deputy director for East Africa. He told VOA Thursday that Amnesty’s biggest concern is Hussein’s sentence.
“The death penalty is really the most cruel of punishments in this case. It’s not befitting of the crime,” Magango said.
Hussein’s side of the story needs to be heard, Magango said, and she should be granted a retrial in which additional evidence is admitted.
“The argument that she had been raped by her husband was not entertained because, according to the court’s interpretation of the law, they said that marital rape does not exist and it is not recognized in the constitution of Sudan,” he said.
Her life could also be saved, Magango said, if Hammad’s family accepts a financial settlement, called “diya,” which they previously rejected.
“If the family were to accept (diya) and understand that she acted in self-defense and she did not plan to kill her husband and accepted the financial settlement, that would resolve the matter. And she wouldn’t have to be executed,” he said.
Family and economic pressures lead many women in Sudan to get married at a young age. About one-third of Sudanese girls are married by age 18, and 12 percent of girls marry by 15, according to a 2017 report by UNICEF.
Worldwide, 1 in 9 girls marries by 15, according to the Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, a group focused on eliminating child marriage and other humanitarian work.
But Sudan’s legal system provides few protections for girls and young women whose families push them into early marriage. Children as young as 10 can be legally married, and for years a 1991 law had defined rape strictly as nonconsensual sex in adulterous relationships.
A 2015 amendment separated the two crimes, creating legal channels to prosecute marital rape, according to a 2016 report by the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies. But societal norms have led to interpretations that disadvantage women, rights groups say, and marital rape remains prevalent.
More calls to save Noura
Calls for the Sudanese government to prevent Hussein’s execution are growing. More than 700,000 people have signed a Change.org petition calling on the Sudanese government to spare her.
On Sunday, U.N. Women, the U.N. Population Fund and the U.N. Office of the Special Adviser on Africa issued a joint statement pleading “with the government of Sudan to save the life of Hussein and to protect the lives of all women and girls.”
The Delegation of the European Union to Sudan has also issued a statement expressing “their firm opposition to the death penalty, whatever the place and circumstances.”
Hussein’s lawyers have until May 25 to appeal the court’s decision. CNN reported Wednesday that Al-Imam had been barred from holding a press conference and intimidated at his office by security forces.