We join hundreds of relentless Sudanese activists and millions of supporters worldwide to rejoice in the first win for the #JusticeForNoura movement! The death sentence that Noura Hussein received for defending herself against her rapist husband - whom she was forced to marry - has been overturned by a Sudanese court, although she still must serve 5 years in prison and pay nearly $20,000 in fines. But the overturning of her death sentence, and the movement that was born to fight for it, will have long-lasting impact for the "other Nouras” of Sudan: the past, present, and future victims of practices and systems that are rigged against girls, women, minorities and other vulnerable groups.
Noura Hussein, now 19, was only 16 years old when she was proposed to by a man twice her age and her family agreed. But Noura preferred education over marriage and kept delaying the wedding as her opposition to it grew. After the initial marriage ceremony, she ran away to another village to stay with a relative, but was convinced to come back home with the understanding that the marriage would never be completed. Instead it was, and after two years of further resisting, she was pressured into finally going live with her husband in April 2017. But Noura continued to resist, refusing to consummate the marriage until relatives of her husband held her down while he raped her. When he tried to force himself on her again the next night, she defended herself with a knife that she had originally intended to use to kill herself. Yet in the eyes of the law, she was guilty of murder. Marital rape, child marriage and forced marriage are not crimes according to current interpretation of Sudanese law.
But when she was sentenced in April 2018 to execution by hanging, brave Sudanese Muslim women took up Noura's fight. They started a movement that echoed worldwide, sparking activism by teenagers, young professionals, grandparents and everyone in between. The #JusticeForNoura campaign gained significant momentum among diverse groups in Sudan and quickly spread through Europe, Australia, the United States and far beyond.
It was not unlike previous international campaigns for individuals persecuted by Sudan's system, including Christian convert Mariam Yahya Ibrahim and Freedom of Conscience activist Mohamed (“Baron”) Salih, who were freed in 2014 and 2017 respectively. Through these campaigns (and countless other lesser known ones), it is clear that even after 29 years of living under Al-Bashir’s dictatorial regime and crooked system, the Sudanese public is still holding strong to its values and yearning for a return to the old Sudan. Indeed, up until the Al-Bashir regime took over in 1989, Sudan was an open and pluralistic society where, for example, women were far ahead of their peers anywhere in the world in terms of freedom and equality.
This legacy and spirit was clear in the #JusticeForNoura campaign. Sudanese lawyers, rights activists, civil society leaders and inspired individuals mobilized and raised voices and momentum on Noura’s behalf, voices that reverberated around the globe, garnering the attention of millions of supporters and celebrities such as Naomi Campbell. They also sparked unprecedented dialogue within the Sudanese community about sexual harassment, assault and violence — giving a voice to so many other victims. #JusticeForNoura quickly became about much more than Noura Hussein - it became a movement to empower Sudanese women and men to speak, listen and discuss gender inequality, taboo topics, the need for legal reform and so much more.
And thanks to this movement, Noura is no longer facing the death penalty. It’s far from justice for what she’s been through, and it doesn’t provide a solution to the larger human rights abuses, but it’s an important step in the right direction. Now let’s keep the momentum going to enact the reforms needed to prevent future cases like hers.