Amnesty International reports that the campaign against women and minorities in the Sudan continues unabated. We all perhaps remember the case from about one year ago of Meriam Ibrahim, the young pregnant woman sentenced to die when she refused to renounce her Christian faith, but that was not an isolated case, but rather one of many.
Ten Christian students, all women aged 17 – 23, have been charged with ‘indecent dress’ after they were arrested outside their church by Sudanese police last month. The women were wearing skirts and trousers.
Two of the women have already been found guilty and fined for their appearance. Five others have court hearings next week and could be sentenced to 40 lashes if found guilty. Ask officials in Sudan to drop the charges.
19-year-old Fardos Al-Toum (pictured) appeared in court on charges of ‘indecent dress’ on 6 July, after she was arrested along with 11 others outside a church in Khartoum North on 25 June. All women were accused of violating Article 152 of Sudan’s 1991 Criminal Act, which forbids ‘indecent or immoral dress’ and carries a punishment of up to 40 lashes and a fine.
Two of the women were released without charge, but the other ten were charged for their clothing.
The ten women charged with a criminal act, three of whom are under 18, were kept in the police station for over 24 hours after they were arrested, where they say they were subjected to degrading treatment and humiliating verbal abuse.
Found guilty – and charged again for her clothing in court
Fardos’ hearing was first out of the group. The judge found her guilty – and while in the courtroom decided to defy all proper legal proceedings by bringing the same charge against her again, deeming the dress Fardos wore to court to be ‘indecent’.
She was immediately dealt a fine for the ‘crime’ of being indecently dressed (the sum of which was paid on her behalf by activists and supporters). Thankfully, Fardos was not sentenced to lashes – reportedly due to activism and international outcry around her case.
Fardos is appealing the judge’s decision to fine her for her appearance in court, and in the meantime still faces the initial charge from outside the church.
Facing floggings for their appearance
Five of the other young women have court hearings next week; they too face fines and lashes, if found guilty.
Flogging and other forms of corporal punishment should never be used as punishment – they constitute torture, and should not be inflicted as part of a justice system. Moreover, these women have committed no crime – they have instead been subjected to random, vaguely worded, discriminatory laws.
Sudan’s ban on women wearing trousers
Some of the young women facing trial were wearing skirts, some wearing trousers when they were arrested.
Sudan’s famous intolerance of women wearing trousers made international headlines when Sudanese journalist Lubna Hussein was fined for wearing trousers in 2009.
‘Indecent or immoral dress’ was outlawed in Sudan in 1991 with the creation of the country’s Criminal Act. Under Article 152, the Public Order Police (known as the ‘morality police’) can arrest a man or woman they believe to be ‘causing annoyance to public feelings’ through their appearance.
‘Whoever commits, in a public space, an act, or conducts himself in an indecent manner, or a manner contrary to public morality, or wears an indecent or immoral dress, which causes annoyance to public feelings, shall be punished, with whipping, not exceeding 40 lashes, or with a fine, or with both.’
Article 152, Criminal Code
Although the law can be applied equally to men and women, in practice women it is disproportionately women who are discriminated against using the Act.
Article 152 is part of a broader set of laws and practices, known as the public order regime, which condone flogging for behaviour seen to be ‘immoral’ – primarily in public, although sometimes also in a private setting.
Discrimination against Christians in Sudan
The twelve women were arrested outside the Evangelical Baptist Church in Khartoum North, where they had been at a church ceremony. They are come from the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan state, home to one of Sudan’s largest Christian communities .
Sudan is a predominantly Muslim country, ruled by Shari ’a law. Christians comprise around 3% of the country’s population.
A lawyer for the women told The Guardian that the women ‘have different traditions and customs from Muslims, and they are being tried because the law is [too] loose’.
YOU CAN HELP
You can click here to go to the Amnesty International page, then click “Take Action” to send an email.
This all illustrates why secularism truly matters, because time after time, wherever religious belief, any belief, gains a position that enables it to dictate, it ends up abusing basic human rights.