It generated international uproar, last Wednesday, when 24 women wearing trousers at a party near Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, were arrested and detained by Sudanese morality police. The charges of “indecency” brought against the women have been dropped.
The women would have been flogged 40 strokes of cane and a fine for wearing what the authorities branded “an obscene outfit”. Sudan’s tradition requires women to wear loose flowing robes. There are claims by activists that the country’s Public Order Act is applied arbitrarily by the authorities.
This has led to tens of thousand of women and girls been frequently arrested and harassed under the Public Order Act every year. Amira Osman, an activist and campaigner said “The party took place in a closed hall in a building in El Manoura. The girls were arrested for wearing trousers, despite obtaining a permit from the authorities”.
Osman said the arrest violated women’s rights. Article 152of the Criminal Code describes indecent acts in public as wearing “obscene outfit” or “causing an annoyance to public feelings”. This is interpreted at the prerogative of police, and Sudanese women are at risk of arrest if police officers deem their clothes to be “provocative”.
A female Sudanese journalist, Lubna Ahmed Hussein was convicted and jailed for one month for “dressing indecently” by wearing trousers, but was freed after one day in prison. She was sent to prison after refusing to pay a fine of about $200.
Hussein, then in her 30s, had refused to pay the fine in order not to give the verdict any legitimacy. She would have been flogged up to 40 strokes of the cane. But the Sudanese Union of Journalists paid the fine to secure her release, accordingly Mohedinne Titawi, a member of the union.
International rights groups and the UN criticized the charges and trial of Hussein, and described the exercise as breaching international law. Before the verdict, Hussein said she would use her trial as a test case for women’s rights. She resigned her job at the UN that would have granted her immunity from the trial.
Hussein was arrested July 2009 along with 12 other women wearing trousers. She said several of the women pleaded guilty and were given 10 strokes of cane instantly; and were mainly “Christian and Animist South”; even though non-Muslims were not expected to be subject to Islamic laws.