Teens tried for wearing trousers in Sudan



18 FEBRUARY 2015

In Sudan, women and girls continue to suffer under discriminatory laws,under so-called ‘Public Order Articles’ contained in the 1991 Sudanese Criminal Act by which they are arrested based on loose interpretations of the laws, subjected to summary trials and lashed.

On Wednesday 11 February 2015, police officers arrested two young women, Fatima Abdel-Fadil Hassan and Amna Mohamed Banaga, in Al-Haj Abdullah village in the south of Al-Jazirah State in central Sudan. Hassan and Banaga, 16 and 18 years old respectively, had not committed any crime, but in the eyes of the police, they were guilty for wearing trousers.

The young women were arrested in the afternoon from the brick-making site where they are employed and, were then held at the local police station from 4:00 PM until 11:30 PM. They were released on bail only to return the next day for the trial.

The young women were charged with Article 152 of the 1991 Criminal Act which states that:

‘(1) 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 forty lashes, or with a fine, or with both (2) The act shall be contrary to public morals if it is regarded as such according to the standard of the person’s religion or the custom of the country where the act takes place.’

While Article 152 clearly does not stipulate that women can not wear trousers, the phrase “indecent or immoral dress,” which is frequently singled out by activists as overly vague and therefore vulnerable to extreme interpretations, was loosely translated by police officers to justify carrying out the arrest. Article 152 has been thusly used to justify arrests made for anything from wearing trousers to not covering your hair, as was thecase for Amira Osman Hamed, another victim of Public Order legislation that SIHA advocated for.

This case brings back a painful memory for many women’s rights defenders who vividly recall the case of Lubna Hussein, a journalist arrested in July 2009 and charged under Article 152 for wearing trousers. Hussein was subsequently imprisoned for refusing to pay a hefty fine. Her case instigated outrage on a national and international level over the content and application of Public Order Articles.

During the trial of Hassan and Banaga, a source told SIHA that the judge was very cruel towards the young women and their mothers, who work in the informal sector as tea ladies, and told the mothers that he would put their daughters in Wad-Medani Prison if they ever wear trousers again.

While both were charged, Hassan was acquitted of the charge while Banaga received 20 lashes; Banaga told SIHA’s source that she was lashed on her hands although the lashing is usually conducted on the legs, buttocks and back area. The source who visited the young ladies and their families added that Banaga’s hands bear the marks of the lashings.

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 trial standards, despite Sudanese constitutional protections guaranteeing due process for the accused (Article 34, Constitution of Sudan), and involve the imposition of severe penalties including lashing and execution.

SIHA believes that the Public Order Articles of the 1991 Sudanese Criminal Act are in need of abolishment, especially Articles 151 to 156 which criminalize the personal behavior of women and their basic personal freedoms such as their dress code, their presence in the private sphere, and their right to work. SIHA also condemns the penalty of lashing which is carried out on thousands of women and girls in Sudan every year and is carried out despite lashing and all forms of corporal punishment being in flagrant violation of international human rights standards, including prohibitions on torture and cruel and unusual treatment, as well as Sudan’s domestic constitutional prohibition of ‘cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment’ (Article 33, Constitution of Sudan).

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

The Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) is a coalition of over 80 women’s civil society organisations from across the Horn countries inclusive of Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Somaliland, Eritrea and Uganda. The organisation works on women’s access to justice, promoting and protecting women’s human rights, activating women’s political participation and supporting economic empowerment.