Sudanese woman charged with ‘indecent dress’ will keep on fighting for her rights

Haitham Nouri , Saturday 28 Jun 2014

Amira Osman Hamed was arrested in Khartoum last year for failing to wear a headscarf

Amira Osman Hamed Sudanese activist (Photo:Snapshot from You tube Al Youm interview)

Amira Osman Hamed was arrested and charged with "indecent dress" in August last year after she was caught walking around Khartoum without wearing a headscarf.

Hamed, 31, is still awaiting trial. If found guilty, she could be punished with public flogging.

"In Sudan, violations of women rights take place every day, which is why we launched the No to Oppressing Women Movement in 2009," Hamed stated.

"This regime is oppressing women…we will not stop protesting against their sexist and oppressive laws," she told Ahram Online.

Back in 2013, a police officer stopped Hamed in the Sudanese capital and asked her to cover her head. She replied by saying that she does not wear the veil.

According to Hamed, the police officer called her an “indecent woman”, while another officer asked her not to look directly at a man while speaking to him.

The woman was then taken to the police station; she says the first question she was asked was which tribe she belonged to – a potentially controversial question in Sudan where race and ethnicity can be political issues.

Sudanese human rights activist and lawyer Ali Mahgoub says that in Sudan there are remnants of racism manifested in the question of tribal origin, and therefore bringing up the topic to Hamed while being in the police station was meant to disgrace her.

She was released on bail four hours later.

The law under which Hamed was charged is Article 152 of Sudan’s 1991 Criminal Act. It is part of a wider set of “public order” laws and practices, which stipulate flogging as punishment for any kind of public and sometimes private behaviour deemed immoral.

Under the law, a woman charged with “indecent or immoral dress” may be sentenced to up to 40 lashes.

A date was set for Hamed’s trial in November last year, and dozens of lawyers, activists and journalists gathered at the court for the session, but the judge did not attend and the case was postponed until the next week, and subsequently postponed again. No new date has been set.

The issue of public indecency arrests first came to global attention in 2009 through the case of journalist Lubna Hussein, who was arrested along with 12 other women, for wearing trousers. The court chose not to sentence Hussein to flogging following the international attention her case attracted, but she was jailed for a month for refusing to pay a fine and launching a public campaign about the issue.

Many women charged with such offences choose to remain silent about their experience, in part due to the trauma of their arrest and partly due to the stigma of being charged immorality.

Hamed said that the authorities tried to blackmail her to prevent her speaking to the media, but she refused to bargain.

Mahgoub argues that the Sudanese regime implements the laws in an attempt to protect its extremist allies.

"But the system also wants to clean up its international image," he argues.



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