Moral Low Ground


Sudanese Woman Intisar Sharif Abdalla Sentenced to Death by Stoning for Alleged Adultery

Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy texts all command that adulterers should be stoned to death. Only Muslims actually do it.

The latest woman to be sentenced to death by stoning for alleged adultery is Intisar Sharif Abdalla, a young Sudanese woman of indeterminate age (she appears to be around 20) who was condemned by the Ombada criminal court on April 22, Reuters reports.

The illiterate young mother is being shackled in prison with her four-month-old son. Her lawyers say she is under severe psychological strain.

“She’s in dire need of a psychiatrist because she appears to be in a state of shock from the social and family pressures she’s under,” one lawyer told Reuters.

It is not clear where Abdalla comes from, how old she is or what exactly led to her conviction and death sentence. She does not speak Arabic, the country’s official language, and she did not have an attorney or an interpreter in court with her when her sentence was handed down.

The Guardian reports that the woman’s family is appealing her sentence. The date of the execution is unknown.

Sudan commonly punishes minor offenses like drinking alcohol and adultery by flogging, but death by stoning is a rare  (but legal) occurrence in the African nation of 37 million. Islamic law– shari’a— reigns supreme in Sudan, with President Omar Hassan al-Bashir announcing in 2010 that the nation would enact a fully Islamic constitution following the secession of mainly Christian South Sudan, which occurred last year.

The international human rights group Amnesty International condemned Abdalla’s sentence and called on the Sudanese government to live up to its human rights obligations under international law.

“Stoning is a method of execution designed to increase the suffering of the victim, which means it is an extreme and cruel form of torture. International human rights law specifically prohibits death sentences resulting from unfair trial, as well as the execution of new mothers. In addition, we urge the government to have the best interest of Intisar’s child as their main consideration during the judicial process,” the group said in a statement.

“No one should be stoned to death and imposing this punishment on someone who may be a child is especially shocking,” added Human Rights Watch Africa director Daniel Bekele. “Sudan should immediately reform discriminatory laws and abolish the death penalty and all corporal punishments that violate the international treaty obligations it has promised to respect.”

“Sudan should uphold international and African standards,” he added. “It should ban death by stoning and other corporal punishment, and revise laws that discriminate against women and girls.”

The Sudanese Embassy in London responded by defensively criticizing Amnesty International.

“It is not interested in the welfare of our women because it never mentions the positive side,” embassy spokesman Khalid al-Mubarak told The Guardian. “Our women have achieved equal pay for equal work. They occupy top jobs as ministers and members of the high court.”

Although a relatively rare occurrence, women and girls are sentenced to death by stoning in a handful of Muslim countries. It is a legally sanctioned punishment for adultery in Afghanistan, Iran, sections of Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates.

Women sentenced to die by stoning, or lapidation, are buried in a hole up to their chests. This is followed by a selected group of adults who pelts the condemned individual with rocks and sticks. The rocks are carefully chosen and of a specific size to ensure that death does not take too long or occur too quickly. If the victim manages to free herself from the hole she is buried in, Islamic law dictates that she can be freed. But since women are buried up to their chests (men only up to their waists), it is much harder for them to escape this barbaric punishment.


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