When she was only 16 years old, Noura Hussein was married off by her family. She quickly fled to avoid the forced marriage and stayed with an aunt for three years until her family tricked her and forcibly returned her to her husband and his family.
Despite Hussein’s rejection, he forcibly raped her as his brother and two others held her down. Now just 19 years old, Hussein faces the death penalty for stabbing her abusive husband. He did not survive, and unless activists and legal counsel can appeal her sentence, she may not survive either.
The harsh decision came from court in Omdurman, Sudan, where the May 10 sentence has garnered much attention. A petition to the Sudanese government has already accumulated over 350,000 signatures in Hussein’s defense. Several women have used the hashtag #JusticeForNoura to share Hussein’s story and the petition. Her lawyer has until May 25 to appeal the court’s sentencing.
A Twitter supporter who claims to have attended Hussein’s sentencing wrote the judge asked the husband’s family to forgive her. Instead, they demanded her execution, and when the judge obliged, they cheered. “When I left the court the rapist’s family were clapping with joy and had smug looks on their faces – I was disgusted,” the supporter wrote.
Tara Carey of Equality Now had more words of support for Hussein’s case. “The constitution further provides that the ‘state shall protect women from injustice and promote gender equality’, and that ‘all persons are equal before the law and are entitled, without discrimination, to the equal protection of the law,’” she said. She told The Guardian that Equality Now will send a letter about the case to the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, asking for him to intervene.
Sudanese activist Sarah Elhassan told AJ+, “We have the case of a woman who was raped by a man who was not her husband because she never agreed to the marriage. Then when he tried to rape her again, she killed him in self-defense. Now, she might be executed for it.”
Muslim women, particularly, are voicing support for Noura in a very public way. While other women in Hussein’s situation may not have caught the attention of other Sudanese women and international activists, her case could change how women are treated in the country’s courts and in the practice of forced marriage.
Marital rape is not considered a crime in Sudan, but this case may also challenge those attitudes.
If her lawyer succeeds in appealing the sentence, Hussein would only face jail time and fines instead of losing her life.