Sudan: Lubna’s trouser war, a call for Islamic law review?

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The highly publicized trial of Ahmed Lubna al-Hussein was rescheduled Tuesday to take place next month. Lubna , a journalist by profession, was sentenced for wearing a pair of trousers, an offense punishable by 40 lashes. She intends to have Article 152 of her country’s penal code reviewed. According to her, that law is responsible for the unfair treatment suffered by Sudanese women in their choice of clothes.

Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein now wears the trousers of resistance. Her main objective is to have article 152 (Penal Code of Sudan) abrogated. According to the law, committing “an indecent act or an act that violates public morals” is punishable by 40 lashes administered in public. It is under this article that Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein was arrested for wearing indecent clothing in a restaurant in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, on July 3. She was accused of wearing a pair of long, loose, green trousers under a long lose top, which covered a good part of the trousers. A dozen other women were arrested at the same time. The women had gone to see an Egyptian singer perform at the restaurant when police officers stormed the premises and arrested all the women they deemed indecently clothed. Those that pleaded guilty were flogged, fined and allowed to go home. Among them were non-Muslims from the predominantly Christian southern Sudan who are not to be affected by the indecency laws (under Sharia). Lubna, a northern Sudanese and Muslim woman, refused to plead guilty and rather asked for a lawyer. “Her main argument is that her clothes are decent and that she did not break the law,” Nabil Adib Abdalla, Lubna’s defence lawyer said.

However, for the thirty-something year old widow, it is the beginning of a battle. She sent out 500 invitations and emails to her initial hearing for journalists, diplomats and rights groups to come and see the public humiliation of a woman. She deliberately resigned from her job at the communications department of the UN mission to Sudan in order to waive the immunity it provides. Tuesday, several protestors gathered in support of Lubna in front of the Sudanese court waving placards and banners marked with “no return to the dark ages”. These actions came as women groups complained and protested the ambiguity of the law. Her trial, scheduled to begin on Tuesday, has been postponed for a month. The reason given by the Khartoum court for the postponement is immunity. ”They want to check with the U.N. whether I have immunity from prosecution. I don’t know why they are doing this because I have already resigned from the United Nations. I think they just want to delay the case,” Lubna al-Hussein told Reuters news agency.

According to observers, the judge intends to ensure that Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein’s case can be continued without infringing set rules. Also, according to a person close to the Al-Sahafa daily newspaper, the journalist wants to act as a mouth piece for the over “20 000 girls and women” who have been arrested for their choice of dress; those women arrested and flogged; those who have been forced to pay heavy fines. Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein wants to end the silence surrounding these unjustified sentences.

Even the Sharia would not back Article 152

Lubna Hussein believes that the article is “contrary to the Constitution and the Sharia”, the Islamic law that was imposed on northern Sudan in 1983. Lubna wants her accusers to show her the suras of the Qur’an or Hadith that call for the flogging of women who wear trousers. Although she intends to fight to have the law abrogated, Lubna al-Hussein says that she would not resist sentencing, but rather invite people to attend her public flogging. She wants the world to see how a woman is treated in her country. Asked by the BBC if she wants to be a martyr, she indicated that if this happens to a woman sitting in a restaurant in Khartoum, one could imagine what happens to a woman in Darfur.

This event comes at a time when the Sudanese government is trying to change its battered international image. Analysts believe that the government might try to shelve the case although they claim that the judicial system is entirely independent. But with Lubna al-Hussein’s crusade to ensure that women live freely by calling for a total abrogation of Article 152, which she says is not in accordance with Sudanese laws, the battle may have only just begun.

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