Last August, near Sudan’s capital, a pregnant Ethiopian woman was raped by seven men while they filmed the assault. The video went viral, and in January, at eight months pregnant, she was thrown into a concrete cell on charges of creating pornography and engaging in indecent behavior. It was reported on last week, and since that time, massive shifts in the case have come to light, including the far more serious charges of prostitution and adultery, being added to her case. Adultery, known as ‘zina’ in Sudan, still carries with it the penalty of death by stoning.
She has petitioned the Attorney General of Sudan multiple times for her rape case to be heard, while her lawyers have petitioned to have her moved to a medical facility for the remainder of her pregnancy. All of these requests have been denied multiple times. With her case now underway, the opportunity to ever level a rape charge against these men is diminishing. That’s because they are also on trial for creating pornography and indecency, and in Sudanese law it is illegal for persons to be tried with facts or evidence used against them in a previously concluded case.
Now this woman is in a race against time. Her legal representation has been working to stay the trail and file rape charges as soon as possible. Yet they are once again being stonewalled by the Attorney General. His dragging feet are effectively rendering these men immune from having a rape case filed, a case which has been growing stronger as new discoveries regarding her assault have been made.
Last August just after the attack took place, the victim actually ran into a police officer. He could see that she was crying and distraught, and asked her what had occurred. It turns out, she told him of the rape, yet he refused to investigate further. This police officer has been arrested and charged with negligence. A NISS (National Intelligence Security Service) police officer was also arrested on charges of distributing the video.
The media surrounding the trial is making some headway with international audiences. Numerous international delegations are following the trial, including the British Embassy, who has been attending the court proceedings. This makes sense considering the UK finance the Sudanese Judicial System to the tune of 20.6 million pounds (approximately 34 million dollars). This money was allocated by the Department for International Development (DFID) in a May 2012 public report on aid within the region. What was one of the main goals of this aid money? “DFID Sudan’s key results target is for 250,000 women to have improved access to justice services in Sudan through DFID support by 2015.”
If this woman is sentenced to death, she will be shackled and sent to the execution section of the prison. This happened to two women charged with adultery in 2012, and it was only through aggressive advocacy work that their lives were spared.
Meanwhile, it seems clear from their behavior that the men in this case don’t expect any punishment in regards to the rape trial. Their complete lack of social accountability can be seen in the video, where nobody objected to having their face shown or questions if it could later come back to haunt them. “They don’t even expect to be socially condemned,” stated Hala Elkarib, the Regional Director at SIHA. Media outlets have been portraying these rapists as simply ‘boys’ who might not have known better, despite them all being over the age of 18. In addition, the Sudanese media has promoted prejudices against migrant women, accusing her of having HIV (later proven false) and insinuating that all migrant women work as prostitutes.
Yet the other pressing matter on hand is that this woman is nearly ready to give birth. SIHA has provided the woman with a mattress and clothes, but it is imperative that this woman be transferred to a hospital for proper medical attention and recuperation. She has been victimized and then re-victimized by the Sudanese legal system. And considering the Western aid currently being poured into their legal development, cases like this constitutes a disgrace to the entire point of aid-driven development. This woman should be granted her bail, given proper medical attention and deserves her petition for a rape case to be heard. But in all likelihood, Sudan will push her trial through as fast as possible to ensure her silence.