Sudan court fines woman for wearing trousers

Punishment reduced from 40 lashes to a fine of $200


Sudanese journalist Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein talks to the  media outside the court in Khartoum on Monday. AFP

A woman should be able to wear what she wants and not be publicly whipped for it, according to Lubna, a defiant Sudanese journalist, and on Monday her belief was put to the test. She was fined $200 but spared 40 lashes.

Lubna had been charged in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, with indecent dress. She was arrested in July, along with 12 other women, who were caught at a cafe wearing trousers.

Sudan is partially ruled by Islamic law, which emphasises modest dress for women. Lubna, 34, pleaded not guilty and dared the Sudanese authorities to punish her.

Several women protesters, some of them wearing pants, were carted away by police officers after they demonstrated in front of the court in Khartoum on Monday.

Lubna 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 Lubna 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,” Lubna said. “But more important, it is an insult. This is why I want to change the law.”

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. Lubna argues 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 behaviour of women and men so the behaviour doesn’t harm others, whether it’s speech or dress or etc,” he said.

But, he insisted, Lubna 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.

When asked what other offences Lubna may have committed, Atti said that the case file was secret and that he did not know.

Lubna 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.

‘Lubna jailed for refusing to pay fine’

Lubna Ahmed Hussein was sent to jail on Monday after refusing to pay a $ 200 fine imposed for wearing trousers, one of her lawyers said, reports AFP from Khartoum. “She has been taken to the women’s prison in Omdurman,” the twin city of Khartoum, Kamal Omar said.

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