Sudan woman faces death by stoning for adultery in first case in a decade

Twenty-year-old Maryam Alsyed Tiyrab’s sentence sees small human rights gains overturned following the October 2021 military coup

Protests against the coup in the streets of Khartoum, on July 17.
Protests against the coup in the streets of Khartoum, on July 17.EL TAYEB SIDDIG (REUTERS)

In the first case in 10 years, Maryam Alsyed Tiyrab, 20, has been sentenced to death by stoning for adultery in Sudan, which witnessed a military coup last October.

Tiyrab is appealing the decision, which was taken in her hometown of Kosti, in South Sudan’s White Nile State where she is being held pending the high court’s final verdict.

The case has been condemned by human rights organizations, which are calling on the Sudanese authorities to overturn the sentence, immediately release Tiyrab and carry out legal reform to abolish the death penalty and all other discriminatory laws against women.

The case has also served to flag up the rapid erosion of rights, particularly for women, that Sudan has been experiencing since the military coup ended the fragile democratic transition that began two years earlier. It is also being interpreted as the latest sign of a return to the brutal practices of the Islamist regime of former dictator Omar Al Bashir, deposed in 2019 after 30 years in power.

“This is the first case to come to light in a decade, unless there have been other cases in remote rural areas that have gone unreported,” lawyer and executive director of the African Center for Justice and Peace Studies, Mossaad Mohamed Ali, told EL PAÍS from Uganda.

While punishments for adultery are systematic in Sudan, the center specifically condemns stoning as a serious violation of international law, including international covenants ratified by Sudan.

Following a divorce, Tiyrab moved back into her family home only to have the Kosti police show up last June to question her regarding an investigation into her brother, who had been accused of killing a man he suspected of having an affair with Tiyrab.

During the interrogation, Tiyrab admitted that she had once had sexual relations with the deceased, and was promptly put on trial, despite claiming she confessed under duress.

Lawyer Mossaad Mohamed Ali states that the trial has been full of irregularities; for example, it opened without a formal complaint from the Kosti police, and Tiyrab was denied the legal representation available to all defendants facing a sentence of more than 10 years’ imprisonment, amputation or death. Moreover, she was neither informed of the charges nor the penalty she faced.

One step forward, two back

During its two years in power, Sudan’s transitional government passed a set of moderate legal reforms that expanded personal freedoms and began to modify Al Bashir’s strict Islamist legacy. Among the most notable changes were the elimination of the apostasy law and the introduction of punishments for practicing female genital mutilation. Also revised were penalties of flogging for engaging in homosexual activities and an article dictating the dress code for women.

In August 2021, two months before the coup, Sudan ratified the UN’s convention against torture, though it only adopted a reformist stance regarding the legal legacy of the old regime. Consequently, articles of the penal code such as the one providing for the punishment of stoning for adultery, have remained intact.

Since the military takeover, which has overt ties to Islamist sectors of the Al Bashir regime, there has been an alarming increase in documented violations of women’s rights and a marked reversal of the limited but significant progress achieved during the transition. During Al Bashir’s years in power, women were subject to ultra-conservative public and family morality laws.

However, the penalty of stoning for adultery seems to be taking this archaic conservatism one step further. “Even in Al Bashir’s time, there was no case in which a death sentence [by stoning] was actually carried out, since, as far as I’m aware, judges would give the woman time to think and change her confession during the preliminary investigation,” says independent Sudanese researcher Samia El Nagar, who is “stunned” by the sentence.

More information

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS