In a Sudanese court on Tuesday Lubna Hussein will dare judges to have her flogged
From The Sunday Telegraph, UK, 01 Aug 2009
'Whip me if you dare' says Lubna Hussein, Sudan's defiant trouser woman
By Talal Osman in Khartoum and Nick Meo
In court on Tuesday Mrs Hussein will dare judges to have her flogged.
As the morality police crowded around her table in a Khartoum restaurant, leering at her to see what she was wearing, Lubna Hussein had no idea she was about to become the best-known woman in Sudan.
She had arrived at the Kawkab Elsharq Hall on a Friday night to book a cousin's wedding party, and while she waited she watched an Egyptian singer and sipped a coke.
She left less than an hour later under arrest as a "trouser girl" - humiliated in front of hundreds of people, then beaten around the head in a police van before being hauled before a court to face a likely sentence of 40 lashes for the "sin" of not wearing traditional Islamic dress.
The officials who tried to humiliate her expected her to beg for mercy, as most of their victims do.
Instead she turned the tables on them – and in court on Tuesday Mrs Hussein will dare judges to have her flogged, as she makes a brave stand for women's rights in one of Africa's most conservative nations.
She has become an overnight heroine for thousands of women in Africa and the Middle East, who are flooding her inbox with supportive emails. To the men who feel threatened by her she is an enemy of public morals, to be denounced in the letters pages of newspapers and in mosques.
As she recounted her ordeal in Khartoum yesterday Mrs Hussein, a widow in her late thirties who works as a journalist and United Nations' press officer, managed cheerfully to crack jokes - despite the real prospect that in a couple of days she will be flogged with a camel-hair whip in a public courtyard where anyone who chooses may watch the spectacle.
Her interview with The Sunday Telegraph was her first with a Western newspaper.
"Flogging is a terrible thing – very painful and a humiliation for the victim," she said. "But I am not afraid of being flogged. I will not back down.
"I want to stand up for the rights of women, and now the eyes of the world are on this case I have a chance to draw attention to the plight of women in Sudan."
She could easily have escaped punishment by simply claiming immunity as a UN worker, as she is entitled to under Sudanese law. Instead, she is resigning from the UN – to the confusion of judges who last Wednesday adjourned the case because they did not know what to do with her.
"When I was in court I felt like a revolutionary standing before the judges," she said, her eyes blazing with pride. "I felt as if I was representing all the women of Sudan."
Like many other women in the capital, Mrs Hussein fell foul of Sudan's Public Order Police, hated groups of young puritans employed by the government to crack down on illegal drinkers of alcohol and women who, in their view, are insufficiently demure.
Despite their claims of moral superiority, they have a reputation for dishonesty and for demanding sexual favours from women they arrest.
Mrs Hussein was one of 14 women arrested at the Kawkab Elsharq Hall, a popular meeting place for the capital's intellectuals and journalists, who bring their families. Most of them were detained for wearing trousers. The police had difficulty seeing what Mrs Hussein was wearing under her loose, flowing Sudanese clothes. She was wearing green trousers, not the jeans that she said she sometimes wears, and wore a headscarf, as usual.
"They were very rude," she said. "A girl at a table near mine was told to stand up and told to take a few steps and then turn around, in a very humiliating way. She was let off when they 'discovered' she was not wearing trousers."
After her arrest, on the way to a police station, she tried to calm the younger girls.
"All the girls were forced to crouch on the floor of the pick-up with all the policemen sitting on the sides," she said. "They were all very terrified and crying hysterically, except me as I had been arrested before during university days by the security services.
"So I began to try to calm the girls, telling them this wasn't very serious. The response of the policeman was to snatch my mobile phone, and he hit me hard on the head with his open hand.
"On the way I felt so humiliated and downtrodden. In my mind was the thought that we were only treated like this because we were females."
Christian women visiting from the south of Sudan were among the 10 women who admitted their error and were summarily flogged with 10 lashes each. But Mrs Hussein declined to admit her guilt and insisted on her right to go before a judge.
While waiting for her first court appearance, she said she was surprised to find herself held in a single cramped detention cell with other prisoners of both sexes. "How Islamic is that?" she asked. "This should not happen under Sharia."
Mrs Hussein is a long-standing critic of Sudan's government, headed by President Omar al-Bashir, the first head of state to face an international arrest warrant for war crimes. Sudan has been accused of committing atrocities in the Darfur region.
Before her arrest she had written several articles criticising the regime, although she believes she was picked at random by the morality police.
The regime has often caused international revulsion for religious extremism. In 2007 British teacher Gillian Gibbons was briefly imprisoned for calling the classroom teddy bear Mohammed.
The government is dominated by Islamists, although only the northern part of the nation is Muslim. Young women are frequently harassed and arrested by the regime's morality police.
Mrs Hussein said: "The acts of this regime have no connection with the real Islam, which would not allow the hitting of women for the clothes they are wearing and in fact would punish anyone who slanders a woman.
"These laws were made by this current regime which uses it to humiliate the people and especially women. These tyrants are here to distort the real image of Islam."
She was released from custody after her first court appearance last week, since when she has appeared on Sudanese television and radio to argue her case - which has made headlines around the world.
She is not only in trouble with police and judges. A day after her court appearance she was threatened by a motorcyclist, who did not remove his helmet. He told her that she would end up like an Egyptian woman who was murdered in a notorious recent case.
Since then she has not slept at home, moving between the houses of relatives. She believes her mobile telephone has been listened to by the security services using scanners.
But she has pledged to keep up her fight. "I hope the situation of women improves in Sudan. Whatever happens I will continue to fight for women's rights."
Photo: Former journalist Lubna Hussein leaves the cafe where she was arrested in Khartoum, July 31, 2009. Hussein, facing 40 lashes for wearing trousers in public, made her first appearance in a court packed with supporters on Wednesday, in what her lawyer described as a test case in Sudan's decency laws. (Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallh (SUDAN CRIME LAW SOCIETY)
Photos: Former journalist Lubna Hussein poses for a photograph at the cafe where she was arrested in Khartoum, July 31, 2009. (Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallh (SUDAN CRIME LAW SOCIETY)
eTaiwan News - - Jul 31, 2009
AP The UN Staff Union urged Sudan on Friday not to flog a Sudanese woman working as a journalist for the United Nations for wearing ...
guardian.co.uk - Jul 30, 2009
It is so much easier to demand change from the outside than to challenge convention from within. Lubna Hussein was among a group of 13 Sudanese women ...
ITN NEWS - Jul 30, 2009
A Sudanese journalist facing 40 lashes for wearing trousers is to waive her immunity from prosecution in order to face trial and try to change the law. ...
RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty - Jul 30, 2009
A Sudanese woman who faces 40 lashes for wearing trousers in public is using the case to challenge the country's tough decency laws. ...
CNN International - - Jul 30, 2009
(CNN) -- The lawyer for the woman who faces 40 lashes for wearing clothes that Sudan deemed indecent called the law "degrading." Lubna al-Hussein was told ...
Scottish Daily Record - Jul 30, 2009
A WOMAN facing 40 lashes for wearing trousers in public appeared before a court in Sudan yesterday - wearing the same garment. There were chaotic scenes as ...