When I think of my trial, I pray my fight won’t be in vain – Lubna Hussein
For wearing trousers, I face 40 lashes. This is the brutal reality of Sudan: we live in fear of those who should protect us
Next week I will stand trial in a Sudanese court, charged along with 12 other women with committing an “indecent act” – wearing trousers in a public place. I will face up to 40 lashes and an unlimited fine if I am convicted of breaching Article 152 of Sudanese law, which prohibits dressing indecently in public. As an employee of the UN I was offered immunity, and the chance to escape trial, but I chose to resign from the UN so that I could face the Sudanese authorities and make them show to the world what they consider justice to be.
It will seem absurd to many people that a woman could face this situation in a country that claims to be “the Dubai of the Nile”. Much international media coverage of Sudan in recent years may have focused on issues of conflict. But at the same time my country has reaped millions in oil revenues; skyscrapers and modern hotels have sprung up across our capital city, and although the living conditions of most ordinary people have not improved, our government has promised that we are on the path to prosperity.
And my case is far from an isolated one. In fact 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. And it’s not just about clothing. After my arrest, two girls were arrested in a public place and the police discovered that their mobile phones had video clips of scenes from the hugely popular Arab soap Noor and Mohannad in which the main characters kiss each other. The girls were charged with pornography and given 40 lashes.
In many such cases the court consists of just one policeman and a single judge – with the policeman acting as the complainant, prosecutor and sole witness. And in a growing number of cases, the accused don’t even reach court. One man, in dread of what might happen to him, died recently after falling off a building where he had sought shelter after being chased by the security police.
The laws under which we live have not modernised with our economy. Despite a new constitution in 2005, a comprehensive peace agreement and the protocol of human rights, women are still constrained – not only in their freedom of dress but also their freedom to work. Journalists are prevented from speaking out and people are detained without reason.
This is not new: Sudan has a proud and sad history of courageous men and women who have had to fight against repressive laws. They taught me that we should not hide behind privilege but that we should speak out for those who cannot find their voice. My trial next week may put Sudanese justice in the spotlight for a moment. But I hope that people will not look away once my verdict is announced, because there are many greater challenges that await us.
When North and South Sudan signed a peace agreement after 20 years of brutal civil war, both promised to respect international human rights, to overturn repressive laws and prevent the atrocities of the past being repeated. But the censorship, harassment and detention of journalists and human rights defenders continues.
Next spring our country will face elections. Opposition parties will not be able to fight these elections unless the laws are changed to be compatible with our new constitution. The elections are one step towards a referendum in which our brothers and sisters from the South will decide whether they want to remain in a united Sudan or to create a country of their own. These are painful and difficult choices that will decide the future for generations to come.
I feel anger and frustration that our government will not allow people to freely discuss our future. Sudan is a great country and one rich in diversity of faith, beliefs and ways of being. It has enough resources to provide for all its people. But it will never fulfil its great potential unless we are able to contribute to our future without pressure or fear.
When I think of my trial, I pray that my daughters will never live in fear of these “police of security of society”. We will only be secure once the police protect us and these laws are repealed. I also pray that the next generation will see we had the courage to fight for their future before it was too late. We need Arab, African, American and European leaders to stand with us and help us make sure that the next chapter of our history is less bloody and brutal than the last. This will require conviction and boldness from their side. I hope they will display the qualities of those Sudanese men and women I most admire.
See earlier posting:
* Journalist and 12 other women were arrested in Khartoum for wearing trousers face caning
* Inquiry urged after Sudan women flogged for wearing trousers
* Protest in support of Lubna Hussein – 4th September – London