Sudanese riot police used tear gas against hundreds of people demonstrating outside a Khartoum courtroom on Tuesday in protest at the trial of a woman who faces 40 lashes for wearing trousers.
The judge decided to adjourn the trial to September 7 to determine whether Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein, a journalist who also works with the United Nations, has legal immunity, defence lawyer Jalal al-Sayyid said.
Hussein, who is in her 30s, has been charged with public indecency after she was arrested last month along with 12 other women who were wearing trousers at a Khartoum restaurant.
Riot police wearing helmets and armed with shields and sticks used tear gas to disperse hundreds of women and activists from Sudanese opposition parties who demonstrated in support of Hussein outside the courthouse, an AFP correspondent reported.
“No to oppression against women,” read one banner carried by the demonstrators. “No return (to) the dark ages,” said another.
One of Hussein’s lawyers, Manal Khawajali, said she was assaulted by police outside the court and would file a complaint.
Hussein has said that she wants to be tried to challenge a law that decrees a punishment of whipping for people wearing “indecent” clothes, and told a hearing last week that she wished to waive her UN immunity.
Emerging from the courtroom flashing the victory sign, Hussein again insisted she wanted to be tried and said she had resigned from her job at the UN’s media office in Sudan so she no longer had immunity.
“The court should not have delayed the trial,” she told journalists after the closed-door hearing.
But in an apparent disagreement within her defence team, a lawyer nevertheless argued that she had immunity and asked the judge to ignore Hussein’s wishes, Sayyid said.
He said the judge decided to ask the Sudanese foreign ministry to determine the immunity issue ahead of her next court date.
Ten women have already been whipped for the same offence – including Christians – and Hussein has said she will fight a guilty verdict and the law itself.[…]
Unlike in some other Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf, women have a prominent place in Sudanese public life. Nevertheless, human rights organisations say some of the country’s laws discriminate against women.
Hussein said she wants to fight to get rid of the law, saying it “is both against the constitution and sharia (Islamic law).”
Three observations: Once one is under Sharia law, the only path forward within the system is to argue a ruling somehow violates Sharia. Appeals to democracy, egalitarianism, or human decency (as defined by something other than Sharia) are outside of the scope of the discussion. Secondly, it is in the spirit of Islamic law — via Qur’an 4:34 — that disobedient women may be beaten. That is the root of a variety of problems. Thirdly, the lack of accountability inherent in a theocracy ensures cases of this level of absurdity will happen again, and the victims can only hope to embarrass the government enough in the global media that it relents.
“If some people refer to the sharia to justify flagellating women because of what they wear, then let them show me which Koranic verses or hadith (sayings of the Prophet Mohammed) say so. I haven’t found them,” she said.
Police have also cracked down on another woman journalist, Amal Habbani, who published an article in Ajrass al-Horreya newspaper (Bells of Freedom) entitled: “Lubna, a case of subduing a woman’s body.”