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In Conversation with Marieme Helie Lucas on Noura Hammad’s Death Penalty


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/05/11

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Noura Hussein Hammad is a Sudanese woman up for the death penalty at only 19-years-old. Why?

Marieme Helie Lucas: She was given in marriage at age 15 by her wali (matrimonial tutor, as law permits in Sudan) against her expressed will, steadily reiterated during four years.

When she was finally taken to his house for the consummation of the marriage at age 19, she refused to have sex with him; on the 5th day, he called upon his male relatives to held her down and raped her in their presence; the day after when he attempted to rape her again, she stabbed him in self defense.

She willingly went to the police station with her father to explain the circumstances. She is a victim of child marriage, forced marriage, rape and any other violations of her fundamental human rights.

However, yesterday, she has been sentenced to death by hanging and her lawyers have 15 days to appeal of the judgment. It is a very short time to try and save the life of this courageous young victim who never failed in her determination to be respected as a human being and to defend her dignity.

Women’s rights and human rights defenders who are fighting on Noura’s behalf in Sudan believe the case needs to be supported from outside. The Constitution of Sudan, the Human rights treaties Sudan signed should help protect her; but we need to coalesce protests from within and from outside the country.

Appeals have been sent to the President of Sudan. I encourage everyone to sign on the online petitions that are now widely circulated of Aawaz and on Change; to lobby their nearest human rights organizations; to call upon media to provide an accurate picture of the situation and not a biased or racist or ethnocentric one.

Jacobsen: What role do religion and some men’s perception of their ownership of women play into this?

Helie Lucas: Marriage laws in Sudan are based on religious interpretations of Islam. This is the case in many but not all so-called Muslim countries.

Even within the countries which expressly claim their choice of applying religious laws, those vary greatly from one country to another, in some cases granting no rights at all to women within marriage, in other cases granting equal rights and responsibilities to both spouses, with all the shades in between.

Various factors can explain these differences that include different interpretations of religion, of course, but also the incorporation of traditional practices into what is being propagated as religion itself (such as female genital mutilation), or simply the stage of democratic and progressive forces in a specific country.

To give you a graphic example, two neighboring countries such as Algeria and Tunisia, both culturally homogeneous as located in North Africa, and religiously homogeneous as both are following Maliki ritual, had opposite laws regarding polygyny: in Algeria it was legal as per the first part of the verse of the Koran which allows each man four wives and as many concubines he can support; in Tunisia it was banned as per the second part of the same verse ‘provided he can treat them perfectly equally’ — the Tunisian legislators, as early as 1956, immediately after independence, ruled that no human being can possibly treat his wives perfectly equally — he can give them same money, same dress, same jewelry but not same love, hence they concluded this was a deterrent regarding polygamy.

This debate about ‘true’ interpretation of religion is not specific to Islam: you can see something very similar in predominantly Christian countries whose laws, for instance on reproductive rights, vary greatly from one to the other. Similarly, even among Catholics views are different on contraception, whether one listens to the Vatican, to the Opus Dei or to liberation theologians in Latin America.

The fact is that patriarchy always made alliances with the most regressive forces within religions — we see that with Hinduism and even Buddhism which enjoys such a good reputation among westerners these days -, and that women’s human rights are greatly affected in the process.

For the past few decades, the most conservative trends have been steadily growing within Islam; this entails, among other things, a tightening on democratic and progressive forces, on women’s and human rights organizations, changes in laws that are reformulated in order to fit new regressive interpretations of religion, etc…

Jacobsen: What has been the outcry from the general public over this?

Helie Lucas: There is an outcry in Sudan itself, with human rights and women’s rights organizations at the forefront. There is a very courageous website in defense of Noura, run by Sudanese from within Sudan. There are two online petitions on Aawaz and on Change being circulated. They are massively signed.

Opposition to the judgment grows also from within predominantly Muslim countries in Africa, in South Asia, in South East Asia. Now Europe and North America have joined in the worldwide protest. It is very important that efforts be made in support to one another. For this reason, it cannot be based on superiority and accusation of barbarity whether against Africans or against Muslims as such.

Our success in promoting a respectful coverage of the situation — with due credit to the courageous Sudanese fighting for rights from within -, the fact that Sudan’s Constitution should allow for the protection of Noura’s human rights, the fact that Sudan is a signatory to several human rights conventions and treaties, may be crucial in preventing a defensive reaction from the Sudanese authorities, and could greatly affect Noura’s fate.

This judgment is a blatant denial of fundamental human rights, it was a matter of self-defense in a case of marital rape; it should remain a human rights, women’s rights and child rights issue and not be turned into a religious issue.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen supports science and human rights.

Marieme Helie Lucas is an Algerian sociologist, activist, founder of ‘Secularism is a Women’s Issue,’ and founder and former International Coordinator of ‘Women Living Under Muslim Laws.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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