by Barbara G. Baker
ISTANBUL, March 6 (Compass) — The government of Sudan amputated a Southern Sudanese Christian’s right hand for alleged theft in late January, furthering evidence that the Islamist regime has begun enacting harsh Muslim punishments against both Christian and Muslim citizens within the past three months.
Wani had been jailed in Khartoum’s Kober Prison since May 2000, when he was convicted and sentenced for allegedly stealing spare car parts.
According to the Swiss-based World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), which reported Wani’s amputation last week, Wani had no legal representation at his trial, and there was not enough evidence to convict him. “Even if it had been proved,” a Khartoum relative told Compass yesterday, “he is a Christian. He is not a Muslim. So he should not have been punished under Islamic law.”
Neither Wani nor his family had any warning that the sentence was going to be carried out. “We were actually rung about a half an hour before, by one of the prisoners who knew our telephone number,” the family member said. “He called us and said that Anthony is going to be amputated.” But by the time his family arrived, Wani’s hand had already been severed.
Described as “staunch Anglicans,” Wani’s relatives only learned of his arrest after he had already been convicted and sentenced. “We were not living close to each other,” the family source said. “By the time we heard of it, it was already six months that he was in jail, and the sentence was already passed.”
The family promptly took his papers to an experienced Christian lawyer, who concluded there had not been sufficient evidence to convict Wani of the charges. But by then it was too late to appeal Wani’s sentence, which had already been ratified by a higher court.
Released from prison shortly after his amputation, Wani is now recovering at home, his relative said. His arm is still far from healed, however. Initial reports listed Wani’s age as 46, although a relative told Compass that he was “much younger, somewhere in his 30s.”
“He is having to get used to only using one hand,” the relative said. “He needs prayer, just to adjust to his situation, and accept it.”
According to Human Rights Watch, the tribunals handing down recent sentences of limb amputation are all so-called “emergency courts,” composed of one civil judge and two military judges. “The accused are not allowed legal representation and are allowed only a week to appeal to the district chief justice,” the New York-based advocacy group said in a February 1 report.
According to OMCT’s partner organization, Sudan Victims of Torture Group (SVTG), an emergency court in the southern Darfur city of Nyala gave amputation sentences on December 12 to two other Christians, both expatriates studying in Sudan.
Abdu Ismail Tong from Guinea and Yousif Yaow Mombai from Zaire were accused of stealing three million Sudanese pounds ($1,160). The two Christians confessed to the theft while in police custody, but later denied these confessions. They were refused the right to legal representation by a lawyer during their trial. Tong and Mombai, both 31, remain in jail awaiting punishment.
At least four Muslim defendants in Northern and Southern Darfur states have been identified who also received amputation sentences during December, two of them to cross amputation (severing of the right hand and left foot).
Under Article 171 of Sudan’s 1991 penal code, anyone convicted of theft can be sentenced to amputation if the stolen items equal the value of 4.25 grams of gold. Judicial amputation was first introduced into the Sudanese penal code as part of President Gaafar Nimeiri’s “September Laws” in 1983, but since 1985 it has rarely been carried out.
A Sudanese government spokesman in Nairobi told the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs last week that amputation was a “rare” punishment only carried out twice under the rule of President Omar al-Bashir, who came to power in 1989.
“The punishments are part of our religion,” Charge d’Affaires Muhammad Ahmad Dirdiery of the Sudanese Embassy in Nairobi said on February 27. “Amputation as a punishment occurs throughout the Islamic world, so why single out Sudan?”
The Sudanese government officially exempts the 10 southern states, where most of the population is non-Muslim, from parts of Islamic law permitting the physical punishments of lashing, amputation and stoning. But Islamic law is applied to all residents of the northern states, regardless of their religion.
Over the past decade, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Sudan has noted in his annual report to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights that corporal punishments like amputation, flogging, death-by-stoning and crucifixion enshrined in Sudanese law are “radically opposed to provisions of the international conventions to which the Sudan is a party.”
The Sudanese government’s standard response has been to accuse the commission of attacking Islam.
Copyright 2002, Compass News Direct. Used with Permission.