Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Woman in Sudan Escapes 40 Lashes for Wearing Slacks in Public, But Is Fined Equivalent of $200

Article 152 of the Penal Code of Sudan provides that anyone “who commits an indecent act which violates public morality or wears indecent clothing” can be fined and lashed up to 40 times.

The law is vague and has been used to oppress women.  The most recent example of that can be found in the case of Lubna Hussein, a journalist who recently worked for the United Nations.  She and a dozen or so other women were arrested in a cafe in Sudan and charged under article 152 of the Sudan Penal Code because they were wearing slacks.

Yesterday a court spared her the whipping -- a punishment given with plastic whips intended to leave permanent scars -- but fined her the equivalent of $200.  The woman said she will not pay the fine, and the judge threatened her with one month imprisonment.  She may choose the prison sentence to have a chance to report on prison conditions in Sudan.

Her trial yesterday was attended by diplomats from the British, Canadian, Dutch, French, and Swedish Embassies, along with many women supporters who were also wearing slacks.

Click here to read more about this story in the New York Times.  The woman is quoted in the article as asking "What passage in the Koran says women can't wear pants?"

UPDATE:  We have just received the following press release from the United Nations

The United Nations human rights arm today spoke out against the sentencing of a former employee of the world body in Sudan for wearing pants, stressing that the case is representative of discrimination against women in the African nation.

Lubna Hussein, who formerly worked for the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), was sentenced yesterday to one month in jail, with the alternative of paying a 500 Sudanese Pound, or $200, fine, for dressing in an “indecent” manner.

But the Sudanese Criminal Court “does not define what constitutes ‘indecent dress’ and leaves wide discretion to police officers, raising concerns that the arrests are being conducted arbitrarily,” Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), told reporters in Geneva.

Ms. Hussein was spared the punishment of up to 40 lashes allowed under Sudan’s 1991 Criminal act, but under international human rights standards, flogging is seen as cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment, according to OHCHR.

When asked about Ms. Hussein’s case in July, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters that flogging contravenes international human rights standards. “I call on all parties to live up to their obligations under all relevant international instruments,” he said.

“Lubna Hussein’s case is emblematic of a wider pattern of discrimination and application of discriminatory laws against women,” Mr. Colville stated today.

She was arrested with 13 other women, and their detentions were all arbitrary and at the discretion of police officers, he added.

At the time of her arrest, Ms. Hussein was not informed of her charges, violating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sudan is a State party, as well as its own Interim National Constitution.

“The rights to freedom from arbitrary arrest, to due process of law, and to freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment are expressly protected in the Bill of Rights contained in Sudan’s Interim National Constitution,” the OHCHR spokesperson said.

Given her status as an UNMIS staff member at the time of her arrest and initial trial, Ms. Hussein, who subsequently resigned during her trial, was represented by the mission’s lawyers.

However, the other women arrested did not have access to legal representation and did not have enough time to prepare their defence. Some received flogging sentences, which were carried out immediately.

The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended Sudan’s north-south civil war, requires a comprehensive review of national laws, including the Criminal Act, to bring them into line with the Interim Constitution and the country’s international human rights obligations.

“This review has yet to be completed,” Mr. Colville said.



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