Briefing Public Order Trial: Sentencing of Nuba Women

KAMPALA: On Thursday 25th of June 2015 around 9:00 p.m. after coming from church in El-Ezba neighborhood (also known as Tayba Al-Hamadab) in Khartoum North, 12 Sudanese women hailing from the Nuba Mountains of the embattled Southern Kordofan State were arrested by the Public Order Police while waiting for public transportation. The women were taken to the Public Order Police station in Al-Sababi neighborhood and informed by police, that they were being arrested under Article 152 of the 1991 Public Order Act, which states that:

“Whoever commits, in a public space, an act, or conducts himself in an indecent manner, or a manner contrary to public morality, or wears an indecent or immoral dress, which causes annoyance to public feelings, shall be punished, with whipping, not exceeding 40 lashes, or with a fine, or with both”

Two of the women were released the same night and no charges were filed against them, while the remaining ten spent the night in detention and were released in the following afternoon, however all were implicated in a long trial process ensuing for weeks. The ten women were charged under Article 152 of the 1991 Public Order Act on indecent dress; surprisingly their cases were divided into separate trials. Usually most women arrested by the Public Order Police are tried in summary trials without legal representation.

Consequently, some judges who try public order cases are often not familiar with women having legal representation. The judge presiding over the women’s individual cases at Khartoum North court for instance informed all lawyers working on these cases, that regardless of their arguments, the defendants would be sentenced to lashings. Furthermore witnesses—lawyers and attendees—in court were intimidated by the judge. The defense team, consisting of a network of human rights lawyers, submitted a complaint against the judge, in which they condemned the attitude of the judge, which resulted in the court withdrawing the cases from him and distributing them among three separate judges.

The trials of the ten women began on June 28th and lasted until August 16th. Ferdous Al-Toum, 19 years old, was convicted twice, once during a session in court when the first judge took the liberty of filing a separate complaint and sentencing her on the spot, and again for the initial charge under Article 152. Al-Toum was sentenced to a suspended sentence of 20 lashes for the first charge and was fined 500 SDG for the second charge or a month in jail if she did not pay. Rehab Omer Kakoum, 18 years old, was convicted and sentenced to a fine of 500 SDG. Wigdan Abdallah Salih, 19 years old, was convicted and fined 50 SDG. Yothan Omer El-Jaily, 22 years old, was convicted and fined 50 SDG. Nasra Omer Kakoum, 20 years old, was convicted and fined 50 SDG. Enas Mohamed Al-Komani, 23 years old, was acquitted. Hala Ibrahim, 17 years old, was acquitted; as she is a minor, her case was sent to juvenile court as requested by her lawyer. Seema Ali Osman, 15 years old, was acquitted, although she is a minor, she was tried by the criminal court. Mawahib Suleiman Al-Wardi, 20 years old, was acquitted. Ishraqa Yousif Israely, 20 years old, was acquitted.

After the sentences, the defense team submitted two appeals; one for Ferdous Al-Toum and the other one for Rehab Omer, as the trials were marred with several serious procedural mistakes which made the legal process flawed and violated their constitutional and legal rights.

As for example on 6th July 2015, during her trial for Article 152 for the incident of 25th June, the judge filed an additional complaint against Al-Toum, for dressing indecently in court. The judge charged her with Article 152 and sentenced her to a fine of 500 SDG to be paid immediately. As outlined above, such procedures are normally required to begin with police proceedings. Furthermore Al-Toum’s pleaded not guilty, as she is Christian and her beliefs and values do not prohibit her from wearing trousers. The judge’s action is in direct opposition to the 1991 Criminal Procedure Code, as further for example, Al-Toum was not allowed to defend herself during the trial and was not informed about her charges. Moreover, the appeal stated that Article 152 violates the constitutional right of Al-Toum as it limits her right to express her culture and values and the constitution should take precedent in the face of all laws, especially the Criminal Law. Additionally on 14th July 2015, during Rehab Omer’s trial for Article 152, the judge listened to the complainer and refused to listen to Omer the accused.

Hala Al Karib, Regional Director of SIHA Network, called the sentencing “one of the many peaks of systemic discrimination, Sudanese women had to endure over the past 30 years. She further said that “The silence on the brutality and the dehumanization of women by the Sudanese legal system is becoming unbearable.”

SIHA Network condemns the violations of several constitutional Articles that took place during the trial proceedings alongside the systemic criminalization of women in Sudan through moral policing. Further, SIHA Network strongly recommends a retrial of the above outlined cases and urges the Sudanese government to abolish discriminatory laws such as Article 152 of the 1991 Sudanese Criminal Act. Criminalizing women, via their behaviors and dress and their presence in the public sphere, and penalizing it with corporal punishment, such as lashings and flogging, represents clear violations of international human rights standards, which prohibits use of torture and inhumane treatment.

For additional information on women’s struggle for equality in Sudan, find SIHA’s latest publication Third Class Citizens – Women’s struggle for equal citizenship in Sudan (2015) here. The paper sheds light on the scope and nature of discriminative laws and practices women are facing in Sudan, and touches upon issues of gender discrimination in terms of citizenship and explores aspects of Sudan’s legal framework which aims at restricting, regulating and limiting women’s presence in the public sphere.

For further reading, a detailed analysis of the Public Order Regime carried out by SIHA can be found in English, Arabic, and Frenchhere: Beyond Trousers: The Public Order Regime and the Human Rights of Women and Girls in Sudan (2009).