WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 (UPI) -- Human Rights Watch appealed to Sudanese President Omar Hassan Bashir on Friday to intervene on behalf of a young pregnant Christian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.
The New York-based organization asked Bashir "to prevent this cruel and inhuman punishment from being exercised against her." The accused is Abok Alfa Akok, an 18-year-old Dinka tribeswoman from southern Darfur in western Sudan.
According to HRW spokeswoman Jemera Rone, information available about this case is spotty. However, in its letter to Bashir, HRW stressed, "The man with whom (the woman) allegedly had sex was not tried, because the court lacked sufficient evidence to prosecute him."
The trial was conducted in a criminal court -- not a religious tribunal -- in the city of Nyala. As HRW pointed out to Sudan's soldier-president, Abok Alfa Akok "did not have legal representation during the trial."
"The trial was conducted in Arabic, which is not her language, and there was no translation of the proceedings in order to ensure that she understood fully the case against her."
Faith O'Donnell, coordinator of the Church Alliance for a New Sudan, reminded the Khartoum government that it had promised to change its ways after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
"We expect them to rethink their position in this present case," she told United Press International on Friday. She added, "We understand that the sexual act this young woman is charged with was coerced." The case is now on appeal.
According to HRW, "The Sudanese government has in the past claimed that its Shari'a (religious) laws would not be applied to Christians, but this case shows otherwise. The sentence was based on Article 146 of Sudan's 1991 Penal Code, which is based upon the government's interpretation of the Shari'a."
This article, HRW went on, stipulates that adultery should be punished with:
"1. Execution by stoning when the offender is married; one hundred lashes (when) the offender is not married."
While reiterating its opposition to capital punishment, Human Rights Watch stated in its letter to Bashir, "Stoning to death is additionally painful and brutal."
Under the Shari'a, the stones thrown during the execution should not be so large that the offender dies after a few strikes. Neither should they be as small as pebbles and fail to cause serious injury.
Executions by stoning are not mentioned in the Koran, Islamic legal scholar Tarik Abdul-Rahman wrote, but they are part of the Hadith (collections of sayings and acts of Mohammed). As Abul-Rahman has pointed out, this punishment goes back to the Pentateuch, or first five books of Hebrew Scripture.
In radical Muslim countries, stoning has experienced a major comeback in recent years. "Since the inception of the mullahs' rule, hundreds of women of various ages have been and continued to be stoned to death throughout Iran," the National Council of Resistance of Iran claimed.
One recent such execution was described in vivid detail by local newspapers: Maryam Ayoubi, a 38-year-old mother of three, was convicted of adultery and being her lover's accomplice in her husband's death.
The execution occurred on July 11, 2001. According to Iranian press reports, she was first flogged 50 times, then given a ritual bath, wrapped in a white shroud and carried to the execution site on a stretcher.
There she was buried up to her armpits and subsequently bombarded with rocks. Her lover was hanged.
Human rights activists charge that male adulterers often fare much better than women in strict Islamic countries. In the northern Nigerian state of Sokoto, a woman sentenced to be stoned to death is awaiting the outcome of her appeal in her blind father's small hut.
The only evidence against Safiyatu Huseini had been her pregnancy. The father of her child was an older man, already twice married. She claims he had raped her. But the same court that sentenced her acquitted him after two months on death row.
In some countries, the stoning of women is a welcome popular entertainment. When a lesbian couple was sentenced to die last year in Somalia's autonomous region of Puntland, several hundred people "cheered as the judge handed down death sentences on the two women," according to a BBC report.
Islamic legal scholar Abdul-Rahman confirmed that the Prophet Mohammed personally prescribed death by stoning for married men and women indulging in illicit sex.
Abdul-Rahman added, however, that the death sentence could only be passed if some strict criteria had been fulfilled: "The act must have been publically witnessed by four pious people ... The person must be sane and not under the influence of alcohol."
Moreover, the scholar stressed, "Nobody is allowed to spy or invade your private space. The prophet has said that if anyone peeps into your house, you are allowed to poke out his eye."