Sudan: Call to halt case brought against journalist Lubna Ahmad Hussein

The Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) International solidarity network is gravely concerned to hear that tomorrow, Wednesday 29 July, at 10:00 am, Sudanese time, the court will hear the case brought against Sudanese journalist Lubna Ahmad Hussein for ‘inappropriate dress and conduct’.
Hussein and 12 other women were arrested in Khartoum on July 3, 2009, for wearing trousers. Ten of the women have already received punishments of 10 lashes each, and charges were brought against three others, including Hussein, under Clause 152 of Sudanese criminal law that mandates up to 40 lashes and/or a fine for ‘inappropriate dress’ as well as for conduct that is considered to contravene accepted norms. These actions of the public order police (similar to the the religious police in Saudi Arabia) systematically violate the human rights of Sudanese women.

The WLUML network calls for a halt to the court proceedings under article 58 in the Sudanese Criminal Proceeding Act that gives the minister of Justice the authority to stop the trial. WLUML further demands that article 152 be abolished or reformed because it is in violation of fundamental human rights as enshrined in international law, as well as being in breach of The Bill of Rights in the Sudanese Interim Constitution 2005.

Hussein has brought the issue to the attention of the public, and distributed 500 invitations to journalists and friends to her court proceedings and to the flogging to which she is likely be sentenced, explaining in an interview with Al-Arabiyya TV, that she had given out the invitations because otherwise no one would believe that she was to be flogged for wearing ordinary clothes: "I wanted the punishment to be executed in the presence of observers, so that they see for themselves why I was being flogged."

Imposed dress-codes upon women, whether enforced by legal frameworks or non-state actors, are not only about clothing. Dress-codes speak to an underlying desire to control women’s bodies and autonomy, examples of which can be seen across regions and cultures. We urge your immediate attention to this extreme manifestation of controlling women’s bodies and autonomy through their clothing.

On Facebook, Hussein posted a letter to her supporters in which she clarified that her aim was to stir up a scandal around her case, in order to expose the insufferable reality faced by Sudanese women due to the country's criminal law. She wrote:(4) "I am very grateful to you all, and want to let you know how happy I am to have your solidarity. I hope that [this case] will shed light on Clause 152 of Sudan's 1991 criminal law.

"This is not a matter of a personal attack against me as a journalist, nor of preserving my personal dignity. Far from it. The issue has taken on a different character, [and I call] on the public to be [my] witness and [to judge for themselves whether this incident] is a disgrace for me or for the public order police. You will decide after hearing the charges and the prosecution witnesses, rather than [only] my side of the story.

"My case is the same as that of 10 young women flogged that day, as well as of dozens, hundreds, and maybe thousands others flogged in the public order courts because of their dress, day after day, month after month, and year after year. They emerge from there dejected, because society does not believe them - indeed, it will never believe that a girl can be flogged only because of the way she dresses.

"The result [of this punishment] is [society's] death sentence against the girl's family; for her parents it means an attack of diabetes, hypertension, or heart failure. [Just think of] the girl's emotional state, and the disgrace that will follow her for the rest of her life - and all because [she wore] trousers. The number [of victims] will keep growing, because society refuses to believe that a girl or woman can be flogged because of what she wears."

WLUML networkers