Jalila Khamis: the high price of courage

"My children's life turned to hell for the past 9 months, they refused to celebrate the Eid, it is the second one without me" - Jalila Khamis, held in detention in Umdorman, Sudan

Photo of a black woman's face in a colourful headscarf with an Arabic caption. "Freedom for Jalila"On March 14th, at 2:00 AM in the morning, two cars full of plain clothes men carrying automatic guns raided Jalila Khamis's house in Khartoum, while her husband, her children, and another 20 of Jalila’s relatives living with her after they fled the war in Nuba mountains few months earlier, were sleeping. Jalila was the one who opened the door and the men kidnapped her in seconds, still wearing her sleeping clothes, they took her to an unknown place. Jalila’s husband went in the morning and reported to the police the kidnapping of his wife. The police took no action, and the next day the National Security Services (NSS) called him and informed him that his wife was detained in the political division of the NSS and he must bring her clothes.

From that day in March 2012 until this moment when I am writing this article, Jalila has remained in detention. She has been through many painful experiences during her detention period. In the first five days she was subjected to very long hours of investigation, and then kept in solitary confinement in a cell for four months. All the other women human rights defenders who were detained in the period from June to August for their participation in the protests were released. Jalila has remained in detention to face five charges or accusations that could lead to a death sentence. Since her detention she has developed health problems and now suffers from high blood pressure .

Jalila's main crime was supporting her people, and helping them survive the war conditions after they fled from their homes carrying nothing. Jalila hosted in her house twenty or thirty people who had fled the war in the Nuba mountains, her homeland (she is originally from Buram locality in the South of Nuba mountains). She was very sad and deeply affected by the suffering of her people; she decided to do something to help them, but because she couldn't afford to feed thirty people at once, she called for help and she spoke on a social media video about the situation in the Nuba mountains. She called for peace for the sake of the innocent people, and she condemned the indiscriminate bombing of the Sudanese government. She talked about the young children who had fled their homes, barefoot and without their parents.

Jalila is accused of 'waging war against the state', under Article 51 of the 1991 Criminal Act, and of undermining the constitutional system, under Article 50. Both charges could lead to a death sentence.

The war in Nuba mountains erupted in June 2011 after disputed elections in the region. The competing parties - the ruling the National Congress Party and the opposition and partner of the then ruling the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement “SPLM”-  didn’t agree on the results of the elections. But the fighting in the region goes much deeper than that; Nuba ethnicity is one of the indigenous African ethnicities in Sudan, and is now one of the largest, following the secession of South Sudan in July 2011. The Nuba people fought with the South Sudanese in the 50 year civil war before the Peace Agreement of 2005 and the decision to hold a referendum in 2011 to determine the destiny of South Sudan. Under the Peace Agreement the people of the Nuba mountains were to hold a popular consultation to help them decide their future as a part of Sudan, especially the degree of independence of the local government from central government. But before this “popular consultation” took place the two parties started to fight for control of the rich region, which was to become the only oil producing region in Sudan after the secession of the South.

The situation of Nuba women now is one of the most devastating stories of women's struggle to survive conflicts. Women are alone taking refuge in caves of the mountains, living side by side with snakes and scorpions, eating bugs and leaves, and risking their lives to bring some water or sorghums to feed their starving children while the Sudanese government air craft circulate in the sky, bombing everything moving on the ground. We observed that in the past two months most of the deaths and casualties have been women who took the risk of going out to try to cultivate some food, because the Sudanese government is preventing aid agencies from entering the area.

In a recent report by the Enough project about the food security in the region, 81% of the households said they have only one meal a day, while none of them had one meal a day two years ago. Women also take risks to save their children from starving to death, so they walk for days to go to the refugee camps in South Sudan, and while they walk in the roads they face the dangers of rape and bombing. Rape and sexual violence is one of the daily stories of Nuba women. Entire villages had been raped by the Sudanese government militias, “even old women “ one eyewitness from Umhitan village said. “They are living under siege completely cut from the outside world. Women use tree leaves when they have their periods”, reported one Nuba woman activist who visited the region lately.

Jalila spoke out very early last year about the situation in Nuba mountains - just 10 days after the war. And for her 7 minute video she has been detained for 9 months and is now facing a death sentence. This is the high price that this brave woman, Jalila Khamis, is paying for her courage and her support for her people, while the international community remains silent about all the atrocities and grave human rights violations the Sudanese government is committing every day in Nuba mountains, Blue Nile and Darfur .

Facebook and twitter campaign for Jalila freedom #Jalila8Months.