NAIROBI, Kenya — A Sudanese court on Monday decided not to lash a woman for
wearing trousers in public but convicted her of violating the country’s decency
laws and fined her the equivalent of $200.
France-Presse — Getty Imag
Mrs. Hussein, 34, will appeal the sentence, her lawyers said Monday, and she
still insists that she has a right to wear pants in public. Reached by
telephone after the verdict, Reuters reported, she said she would not pay the fine.
“I will not pay the money, and I will go to prison,” she was quoted as saying.
Sudan is partly governed by Islamic law, which calls for women to dress
modestly. But on Monday, dozens of women — many wearing pants — gathered in
front of the courthouse in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, where Mrs. Hussein’s case
was being heard, to express their solidarity. Many Sudanese women have said the
law is vague and discriminates against women.
Witnesses said riot police officers fired tear gas at the crowd and beat at
least one woman with a baton before arresting several others. Mrs. Hussein’s
lawyers complained that the judge had refused to hear witnesses from her side
and listened only to police officers testifying against her.
A widow with no children, Mrs. Hussein is a career journalist who recently
worked as a public information assistant for the United Nations in Sudan. She
quit, she said, because she did not want to get the United Nations embroiled in
“I am Muslim; I understand Muslim law,” Mrs. Hussein said in an interview
before the sentencing. “But I ask, what passage in the Koran says women can’t
wear pants? This is not nice.”
Mrs. Hussein had even printed invitation cards for her initial court date in
July and sent out e-mail messages asking people to witness her whipping, if it
came to that. She said she wanted the world to see how Sudan treated women.
Some of the other women arrested with Mrs. Hussein have pleaded guilty and
were lashed as a result. Past floggings have been carried out with plastic
whips that leave permanent scars.
“The flogging, yes, it causes pain,” Mrs. Hussein, who is Sudanese, said.
“But more important, it is an insult. This is why I want to change the law.”
The law in contention here is Article 152 of Sudan’s penal code. Concisely
stated, the law says that up to 40 lashes and a fine should be assessed anyone
“who commits an indecent act which violates public morality or wears indecent
But what exactly is indecent clothing?
In Sudan, some women wear veils and loose-fitting dresses; others do not.
Northern Sudanese, who are mostly Muslim, are supposed to obey Islamic law,
while southern Sudanese, who are mostly Christian, are not. Mrs. Hussein has
argued that Article 152 is intentionally vague, in part to punish women.
Rabie A. Atti, a Sudanese government spokesman, said the law was meant for
the opposite reason, to “protect the people.”
“We have an act controlling the behavior of women and men so the behavior
doesn’t harm others, whether it’s speech or dress or et cetera,” he said.
But, he insisted, Mrs. Hussein must have done something else to run afoul of
the authorities, besides wearing pants.
“You come to Khartoum and you will see for yourself,” he said. “Many women,
in offices and wedding ceremonies, wear trousers.”
“Thousands of girls wear the trousers,” he added.
Asked what other offenses Mrs. Hussein might have committed, Mr. Atti said
that the case file was secret and that he did not know.
Mrs. Hussein countered that she did not do anything else that might have
violated the law, and that countless people from inside and outside Sudan are
“It’s well known that Sudanese women are pioneers in the history of women’s
rights in this region, and that we won our rights a long time ago because of
our awareness, open mind, good culture and struggle,” she said.
The last time Sudan’s courts handled a case that attracted such
international attention, they found a compromise solution. A British
schoolteacher had faced up to 40 lashes and six months in prison for allowing
her students to name a class teddy bear Muhammad, which was perceived as an
insult to Islam. But after being sentenced to 15 days in jail, she was soon
pardoned by the Sudanese president.