A Fine but No Lash for Sudan Woman Who Wore Pants

Sep 7th, 2009 | By | Category: Signs of the Times (click on article name)
September 8, 2009

A Fine but No Lash for Sudan Woman Who Wore Pants

By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
New York Times
Lubna Ahmed al Hussein

Lubna Ahmed al Hussein

NAIROBI, Kenya — A Sudanese court on Monday decided not to lash a woman for wearing trousers in public but convicted her of violating the country’s decency laws and fined her the equivalent of $200.

The woman, Lubna Hussein, an outspoken journalist who recently worked for the United Nations, was facing 40 lashes in a case that generated widespread interest inside and outside Sudan.

Mrs. Hussein, 34, will appeal the sentence, her lawyers said Monday, and she still insists that she has a right to wear pants in public. Reached by telephone after the verdict, Reuters reported, she said she would not pay the fine. “I will not pay the money, and I will go to prison,” she was quoted as saying.

Sudan is partly governed by Islamic law, which calls for women to dress modestly. But on Monday, dozens of women — many wearing pants — gathered in front of the courthouse in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, where Mrs. Hussein’s case was being heard, to express their solidarity. Many Sudanese women have said the law is vague and discriminates against women.

Witnesses said riot police officers fired tear gas at the crowd and beat at least one woman with a baton before arresting several others. Mrs. Hussein’s lawyers complained that the judge had refused to hear witnesses from her side and listened only to police officers testifying against her.

A widow with no children, Mrs. Hussein is a career journalist who recently worked as a public information assistant for the United Nations in Sudan. She quit, she said, because she did not want to get the United Nations embroiled in her case.

“I am Muslim; I understand Muslim law,” Mrs. Hussein said in an interview before the sentencing. “But I ask, what passage in the Koran says women can’t wear pants? This is not nice.”

Mrs. Hussein had even printed invitation cards for her initial court date in July and sent out e-mail messages asking people to witness her whipping, if it came to that. She said she wanted the world to see how Sudan treated women.

Some of the other women arrested with Mrs. Hussein have pleaded guilty and were lashed as a result. Past floggings have been carried out with plastic whips that leave permanent scars.

“The flogging, yes, it causes pain,” Mrs. Hussein, who is Sudanese, said. “But more important, it is an insult. This is why I want to change the law.”

The law in contention here is Article 152 of Sudan’s penal code. Concisely stated, the law says that up to 40 lashes and a fine should be assessed anyone “who commits an indecent act which violates public morality or wears indecent clothing.”

But what exactly is indecent clothing?

In Sudan, some women wear veils and loose-fitting dresses; others do not. Northern Sudanese, who are mostly Muslim, are supposed to obey Islamic law, while southern Sudanese, who are mostly Christian, are not. Mrs. Hussein has argued that Article 152 is intentionally vague, in part to punish women.

Rabie A. Atti, a Sudanese government spokesman, said the law was meant for the opposite reason, to “protect the people.”

“We have an act controlling the behavior of women and men so the behavior doesn’t harm others, whether it’s speech or dress or et cetera,” he said.

But, he insisted, Mrs. Hussein must have done something else to run afoul of the authorities, besides wearing pants.

“You come to Khartoum and you will see for yourself,” he said. “Many women, in offices and wedding ceremonies, wear trousers.”

“Thousands of girls wear the trousers,” he added.

Asked what other offenses Mrs. Hussein might have committed, Mr. Atti said that the case file was secret and that he did not know.

Mrs. Hussein countered that she did not do anything else that might have violated the law, and that countless people from inside and outside Sudan are supporting her.

“It’s well known that Sudanese women are pioneers in the history of women’s rights in this region, and that we won our rights a long time ago because of our awareness, open mind, good culture and struggle,” she said.

The last time Sudan’s courts handled a case that attracted such international attention, they found a compromise solution. A British schoolteacher had faced up to 40 lashes and six months in prison for allowing her students to name a class teddy bear Muhammad, which was perceived as an insult to Islam. But after being sentenced to 15 days in jail, she was soon pardoned by the Sudanese president.

Waleed Arafat contributed reporting from Khartoum, Sudan

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  1. The oppression of women is strictly SATANIC in these countries.

    “Thus shall ye say unto them, the gods that have not made the heavens and the earth,
    even THEY SHALL PERISH from the earth and from under the heavens” Jer.10

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