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Rights groups slam death-by-stoning sentence for Sudanese woman

June 1, 2012 | 11:02 am

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Human rights groups have called for Sudan to abolish death by stoning as prescribed legal punishment after a young woman convicted of adultery was ordered executed by a Sudanese court.

The woman, Intisar Sharif Abdallah, who is married, give birth five months ago and is currently being held, with her baby, outside Khartoum, according to Human Rights Watch.

"No one should be stoned to death, and imposing this punishment on someone who may be a child is especially shocking," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director for Human Rights Watch.

Abdallah's age has not been verified, although Sudanese rights groups suggest she may be under the age of 18. Under Sudanese law, a minor cannot be sentenced to death, and a defendant is entitled to a lawyer in court.

A statement by Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA), a women’s rights group following the case, said Abdallah admitted guilt after she was beaten and tortured by her brother, who instigated the case against her. The conviction is based solely on her admission under duress, according to rights groups.

The organization quoted Abdallah's lawyer as saying that she initially pleaded innocent, but changed her plea. Although Sudanese legal authorities have given her age as 20, SIHA said she is between 15 and 17.

SIHA said after she initially denied the charge the case was thrown out of court. She was then repeatedly beaten and tortured by her brother, confessed to adultery and was returned to court where she was convicted.

"She is understood to be deeply traumatized and is without access to suitable psycho-social support. Her newborn child is also with her in prison whilst she is shackled at the ankles, struggling to nurse him. Her co-accused, having maintained his denial of adultery, has therefore not been charged and now walks free," the SIHA statement said, adding that her lawyer was only allowed to see her after she had been convicted and sentenced to death.

"Abdallah did not even receive the benefit of protections in Sudan’s own laws," said Bekele, of Human Rights Watch. “Authorities should drop the charges and free her immediately."

Amnesty International issued an urgent request for people to send letters to Sudanese authorities before July 6, calling for the execution to be halted.

"It is clear that the punishment of stoning is designed to cause the victim grievous pain before leading to death. Such methods of execution specifically designed to increase the suffering of victims are of particular concern to Amnesty International, as an extreme and cruel form of torture," the Amnesty International statement said.

Bekele said the case underscored the need for Sudan to reform its legal system in accordance with human rights standards.

"The court relied solely on her coerced confession to convict and sentence her in a single court session, while the man alleged to have committed adultery with her denied the charges and was released," a lawyer working with SIHA told Human Rights Watch, Bekele said.

He said pro bono lawyers in Sudan had launched an appeal.

Sudanese courts have sentenced several women to death by stoning in recent years, but the sentences have been overturned on appeal. Other countries where sharia law is practiced and allow the sentence of death by stoning include Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, parts of Nigeria, Iraq, Indonesia and Somalia.

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-- Robyn Dixon

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