The Sudanese woman put on trial for wearing trousers was spared the lash today but still landed in jail after refusing to pay the £130 fine imposed for indecency.
Lubna Hussein, a 34-year old widow whose trial exposed Sudan’s Islamic laws, was taken to prison in the same trousers she wore when she was arrested with 12 other women at a Khartoum restaurant in July.
“I will not pay a penny, I’d rather go to prison” she declared after hearing the verdict. She was then taken to a women’s jail in Omdurman, across the Nile from Khartoum, the capital, to serve a one month-sentence for refusing to pay the fine.
Aware of worldwide interest in the case, the judge had tried to be lenient. His punishment fell far short of the maximum penalty under the notorious Article 152 of Sudan’s penal code which prescribes 40 lashes and an unlimited fine for women dressed in an indecent or obscene manner in public.
Ten of the other women arrested with her had already pleaded guilty to the charge of indecency and been flogged.
However, unlike thousands of other women arrested in similar circumstance every year, Ms Hussein, a journalist who worked for the United Nations, refused to accept her summary punishment.
She called a lawyer, and even as the court tried to close this embarrassing chapter today by slapping on a fine, she vowed to fight on.
“Lubna has bravely sacrificed her freedom to free other women from the oppression of the law,” said Ahmed Elzobier, one of Ms Hussein’s supporters.
“She is not guilty, but the police the court and the government are the guilty ones.”
“The campaign will continue,” Mr Elzobier added. “Although Lubna is going to prison, the rest of her supporters will keep challenging these laws.”
Today’s hearing drew a large crowd, with dozens of men in traditional Islamic garb confronting about 150 of Ms Hussein’s mostly female supporters.
As the women chanted “No to whipping!” the men shouted that women in trousers were prostitutes and demanded harsh punishment for Ms Hussein.
Riot police intervened when scuffles broke out between the trouser-clad women and the bearded men.
About 40 women were arrested and later released by police while onlookers said that at least one woman was taken to hospital after being badly beaten.
Ms Hussein’s case has taken on a political dimension in Sudan, Africa’s biggest country but one that is divided between the predominantly Muslim north and mostly Christian south.
The strict law was implemented in 1991 by President Omar al-Bashir only two years after he took power in an Islamist-inspired military coup.
But a 2005 peace agreement signed between Khartoum and the southern rebels enshrined human rights in the constitution, prompting campaigners, including Amnesty International, to call for the repeal of Article 152.
At her previous court appearance last month, Ms Hussein’s supporters were chased from the courthouse by riot police who fired tear gas to disperse the 100-strong crowd.
Ms Hussein has been energetically publicising her case. She sent out 500 invitations to her first court appearance and has been using her Facebook website to rally support around the world.
Her job with the United Nations would have afforded Ms Hussein immunity from prosecution but she resigned the post in order to fight the indecency charge.
I know it is a bit of a stretch to call the women 'feminists' but even though this is article reveals a dark side to what women face in the twenty-first century; it at the same time comforts me that there are educated women out there who are willing to protest for equal rights. It's baby steps -although may seem like a slow process to those of us in the Western world but we can't forget how long it took the likes of the Suffragettes to accomplish what they did. I just found it intriguing that unlike most cases where women have been persecuted under Shariah Law; in this case the woman herself was leading a campaign and getting the backing of her female peers.