Sudanese Woman Activist Faces Trial; Is it about a Scarf or the Assumed Ideology that Forces Sudanese Women to Disappear
On August 27th 2013 while at the Jabal Awalia locality West of Greater Khartoum undertaking some work on land registration, Amira Osman was approached by a police officer who demanded that she covers her hair. When she ignored him, he persisted to which Amira openly refused. As a result, she was physically assaulted, forced to sit on the floor, verbally abused and later dragged out of the government office to the police station, where they attempted to pressurize her to undergo a summary trail, Amira refused however, and insisted on having a lawyer present. She was held in dentition for four hours before being released on bail. On 1st September 2013, Amira is due for trail under article 152 of the 1991 Penal Code on indecent dress code. Should she be found guilty, she could be sentenced to flogging and paying a fine or receiving a prison sentence that could go beyond one year.
Amira is a Khartoum based engineer who runs her own company and has been confronted by the Sudan Public Order Police on several occasions in the past. She has been targeted through physical assaults and verbal abuse while participating in civil or public activities. She has led a personal campaign against the Sudan Public Order Regime for more than 15 years by simply refusing to cover her head under any circumstances as this is who she believes she is and is how she wants to present herself. In 2012 she was detained for civil political actions for more than one month alongside other women and was subjected to massive psychological abuse due to her choice of dress code.
For the past 25 years or so, Sudanese women regardless of their race, religion, age or background, have suffered degrading treatment and humiliation under the public order code of 1996, which changed in 2009 to The Society Safety Code. Women, especially impoverished women, street vendors and students, have been and continue to be subjected to the constant threat of being arrested, beaten and tortured on the basis of what they are wearing and their mere presence in public spaces. The majority are denied legal representation and tried through what is known as summary trails and either sent to prison or flogged.
Hala Alkarib, the Director of the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) stated that “The degradation of women is affecting our society and self esteem and diminishes the respect that we have in our diverse cultures towards women and girls- an aspect of our culture that we do need to promote and enhance”.
“Sudanese women represent more than half of the Sudan population, their contribution to the society economy and wellbeing is substantial. Women, from street vendors, teachers and farmers, workers are preserving communities and families across the country. The role of the state is to protect them, maintain their dignity and pride and their access to a fair justice system.”
SIHA calls on the Sudan Government and the Sudan Ministry of Justice to:
- Reform the Sudanese Criminal Act, of 1991.
- Remove from the criminal law offences which violate the principles of non-discrimination, legality, equality before the law and the equal protection of the laws, and, which by their definition, inappropriately restrict the exercise of fundamental freedoms.
- Sections 151 to 156 must be subject to particular scrutiny.
- Reform Sudan Public Order laws
- Criminalization of behaviour which constitutes the exercise of basic personal freedoms—unless its prohibition can be shown to be necessary and proportionate in a democratic society—must end.
- Civil law procedures and penalties can be used to govern regulation of many public order matters.
- Provisions which restrict the right to work of women on the grounds of public order, either explicitly or implicitly, and in ways which violate the Charter, must be abolished.
- Abolish the public order courts (POCs)
- The summary procedures in operation before the POCs violate fair trial standards, the principle of equal protection of the laws and the right to liberty and security of person.
- Reform and consider the abolition of the public order police (POP). Many in Sudan, and particularly women, perceive and experience the POP, not as guardians of community safety, but as feared and arbitrary abusers of their fundamental freedoms.
The Public Order Regime in Sudan is a set of laws and mechanisms which prohibit and enforce a range of behaviour from dancing at private parties, to “indecent dress” to the concept of “intention to commit adultery”. These offences can be interpreted with great latitude and are enforced by a special police and court system with a reputation for violence and summary justice. Procedures before the public order courts completely fail to meet fair trail standards and involve the imposition of severe penalties including lashing and execution.
For a detailed analysis of the public order regime see Beyond Trousers: the Public Order Regime and the Human Rights of Women and Girls in Sudan, by the Strategic Initiative on Women in the Horn of Africa-(SIHA).