By: Reem Shawkat
A young lady remains imprisoned in the women’s prison in Omdurman for killing her former boyfriend. The crime was premeditated and she saw it as her last resort after months of enduring blackmail. The boyfriend had incriminating pictures taken without her consent during the intimate time they’ve spent together. Time and time again, he would send her the pictures and extort money. Knowing that her family would be devastated if the pictures were leaked, she continued paying and sold assets as he kept asking for more money. The murder happened after she had sold a plot of land she had inherited from her mother.
Billy Belsey, a prominent advocate on bullying and cyberbullying, defined cyberbullying as an act that involves “the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior by an individual or group that is intended to harm others.”
In the digital age, this could mean everything from sharing conversations and information shared privately in text messages, pictures and emails and making it available to the public without consent from the other party, to cyberstalking or blackmailing someone over private data the bullying party has access to. It is also harassment and online impersonation.
Blackmail over personal data and pictures especially targeted at women who were activists and outspoken in their communities was one of the trends discovered during the research conducted for this briefing paper.
In 2018, just two months before the beginning of the revolution in Sudan, KACE began working on a project with Urgent Action Fund (UAF-Africa) entitled “Using Violence and Mobilizing Anxiety: Repressing Feminist Activism Online”. As part of the project, a roundtable and digital security training was conducted to train and also gather information about cyber-bullying and its impact on Sudanese women.
As a result, this briefing paper was born as a result of conversations with numerous activist and non-activist women in Sudan who had to endure blackmail, online and offline violence, and threats of physical violence. One young woman interviewed faced the prospects of a forced marriage from one side of her family and honor killing from another side after intimate videos she had recorded with a former lover surfaced online and went viral.
In recent years, the internet has become a very important domain for Sudanese women to share their opinions, build solidarity, advocate on different issues such as law reform, share knowledge and critical information and also grow their clientele as they establish online shops to sell products to improve their livelihoods. Social media outlets proved to be an invaluable tool for mobilization during the revolution and the role of women in the 2019 revolution in Sudan is very much noted and commended.
In recent years, the war on women that was waged in the public and private domains through a discriminatory legal framework and the normalization of misogynistic culture has moved online to the pages of Facebook and other outlets.
The internet had become hostile for women as their personal lives were invaded and their personal opinions were scrutinized. When they sought to seek legal protection, it became even more problematic. Even though Sudan has installed the Information Crime Law of 2007, also called the cybercrimes law, the law falls short to protect women from blackmail, defamation, and online violence and does not have clear legislation on cyber-bullying. Women who had tried to report cases found that the responsible prosecution office to be biased, unsympathetic and continued to blame them for sharing pictures online.
This briefing paper seeks to highlight this issue, analyze the social and legal framework as well as provide recommendations. However, we believe that more research should be conducted with a larger group of women as well as more sustained advocacy to ensure that the cybercrimes law is reformed to protect women and secure justice for them.
Read the full report here