Global eyes on Sudanese journalist’s plight

By Emily Ask

“Fashion police” means something entirely different in Sudan than it does in Canada, and it’s a lot harsher than anything you’ll see on What Not To Wear.

If fashionista Stacy London catches you wearing an offensive outfit, she’ll make you buy a new one. In Sudan the law states you may receive up to 40 lashes.

Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein, a Sudanese journalist, discovered this in early July when she and 12 other women were arrested after police raided a Khartoum restaurant in a specific clothing check. Her outfit, loose green trousers, a blouse and headscarf, was deemed “indecent” according to Article 152 of Sudan’s criminal code.

Hussein and two other women pleaded not guilty and went on trial — the other 10 pleaded guilty and received ten lashes each. Article 152 states that “indecent” offenders may receive up to 40 lashes.

Hussein was working for the UN at the time of her arrest, which granted her immunity from prosecution according to CNN. She then resigned her UN status, stood trial and was convicted. Though spared 40 lashes, she was given the choice between a $200 fine or 30 days in prison.

She chose the prison sentence, but the Sudanese Journalist Union paid the fine against her wishes and she was released Sept. 8 after only one night in jail.

“I thank the union for its visit, but I do not thank [Mohi-Eddin] Tetawi [SJU’s president] for paying my fine because in prison there are women far more deserving of this than me,” Hussein told Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat.

She also wrote an article for The Guardian revealing, “The director of police has admitted that 43,000 women were arrested in Khartoum State in 2008 for clothing offences. When asked, he couldn’t say how many of these women had been flogged.”

Hussein’s very public case has drawn international attention. Here in Canada, the Department of Foreign Relations has spoken out.

“Canada is concerned about this case, and about the wider pattern of discrimination against women in Sudan,” spokesperson Dana Cryderman, told the Gauntlet.

“Canadian Embassy officials have been in close contact with Ms. Hussein to demonstrate solidarity, and attended her trial, being the only nation represented at the Head of Mission level,” she said.

“Canada calls upon the Government of Sudan to respect its international human rights obligations, and has conveyed its concern to the Government of Sudan about this case.”

A spokesman for the University of Calgary’s Muslim Students’ Association clarified the controversial Article 152, which is based on Islamic Sharia law.

“The clothing she had was Islamically incorrect, there’s no doubt . . . Women’s clothing should not show the form of body. The same thing goes for men, they cannot show certain parts of the body or wear tight clothes,” said the spokesperson, who asked not to be named.

“[However] there is no Islamic law saying she should be arrested . . . They should have brought her aside first, spoken to her in private; this is what the prophet, peace be upon him, taught us. There is no legal punishment for what she did.”

Corruption happens when only parts of the Sharia are applied he said.

“Women are oppressed by men because they are not applying the entire Sharia law, only parts,” he continued. “No country is applying Sharia law in its entirety.”

U of C’s International Relations Club is not optimistic about Sudan changing its stance on the issue.

“If they’re not budging on serious human rights abuses like those in Darfur, then I doubt that they’re going to change their constitutional law over a case of a journalist wearing trousers and some meager international pressure,” said president Brodie Watson.

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