On July 3, 2009, Sudanese journalist and activist Lubna Al-Hussein was arrested, along with 12 other women, for wearing trousers, under a law that metes out a punishment of 40 lashes for wearing "indecent clothing." Refusing to plead guilty, Al-Hussein resigned from her position in the UN and waived her diplomatic immunity, demanding to be placed on trial, in what rapidly became a cause célèbre for women's rights in Sudan.
Lubna Ahmad Al-Hussein: "I was not the only woman to be arrested. Tens of thousands of women were arrested... In one year..."
First interviewer: "On the cover of your book there is a picture that says a lot. Your pants are wide and are covered by a long blouse. If we could just focus on the photograph.. ."
Lubna Ahmad Al-Hussein: "These are the clothes I was wearing when I was arrested. I should point out that this veil is heavy and large, and I usually don’t wear it. I wear a lighter veil. But that day I had washed my hair, so I wore this."
First interviewer: "So a woman could get a lashing for wearing clothes like that?"
Lubna Ahmad Al-Hussein: "Of course. As I told you, I am not the only one. There are tens of thousands like me. In a single year, 43,000 women were arrested because of their clothing – not in all of Sudan, but in Khartoum alone, as declared by the police general commissioner. "
Second interviewer: "Lubna, you are a journalist, and journalists are a model of enlightened activity in society. What have you in Sudan done to change this law?"
Lubna Ahmad Al-Hussein: "This law, I’m sad to say... This clause contains both moral and physical violence. Physical violence is manifest in the punishment of lashing, which abases human dignity. Moral violence is manifest in the fact that this is called 'indecent acts,' and this is the reason that the tens of thousands of women before me did not have the courage to complain. The courts that try such cases are not regular courts. They are special courts established during the presidency of [Omar] Al-Bashir. They are called 'public order courts,' but their names keep changing. In these courts, the defendant has no right to defend himself."
Second interviewer: "Not at all?"
Lubna Ahmad Al-Hussein: "No."
First interviewer: "There is no lawyer?"
Second interviewer: "Then why is there even a trial?"
Lubna Ahmad Al-Hussein: "Excuse me?"
Second interviewer: "So what’s the point of holding a trial?"
Lubna Ahmad Al-Hussein: "In my case, because of the publicity and the public support I received, I took a lawyer who defended me, but the judge refused to give the defense witnesses a chance to be heard. This is what happened. It was all decided in advance, and..."
First interviewer: "Lubna, didn’t you ask [the court] what the definition of 'indecent clothing' is? What you are wearing is not... What is defined as 'indecent clothing'?"
Lubna Ahmad Al-Hussein: "It depends on the policeman’s mood."
"They Say This Is Islamic Law, But in Fact, This Is the Law of Al-Bashir"
First interviewer: "But if somebody wears a long blouse, long pants, and her hair is covered, what is indecent about it?"
Lubna Ahmad Al-Hussein: "I don’t know. The law is in the hands of the authorities. "
First interviewer: "The authorities interpret [the law]."
Lubna Ahmad Al-Hussein: "Yes. [The law says]: clothing that offends public sentiment. Let me tell you, I was at a place with 400 people, and I didn’t offend anybody. The same law that requires giving a woman forty lashes for wearing pants, requires giving a man who rapes a boy, a girl, or a woman one month in prison. Nevertheless, they say that this is Islamic law, but in fact, this is the law of Al-Bashir."
Second interviewer: "Was the verdict implemented on you, Mrs. Lubna?"
Lubna Ahmad Al-Hussein: "No, it wasn’t, but I was the exception. I don’t know why. All the women are punished with floggings and with a fine. The entire group... We were 13 women, and 12 were sentenced to a flogging and a fine. I was fined, but when I wanted to pay, they refused to accept the money."
Second interviewer: "So they take women who wear such clothing, and without a trial, they implement the verdict?"
Lubna Ahmad Al-Hussein: "Immediately. On the spot. We were arrested on a Friday, so it was delayed to the following Sunday. The latest to be arrested is a 16-year-old Christian girl – not even a Muslim – from southern Sudan. She wasn’t wearing pants like me, but a skirt which they said was tight."
First interviewer: "Is a skirt considered indecent, or not?"
Lubna Ahmad Al-Hussein: "They said it was indecent. It depends on the policeman’s mood."
To view this clip on MEMRI TV, visit http://www.memritv. org/clip/ en/2346.htm.
For more on this issue of women's rights in the Middle East, visit http://www.memri. org/subject/ en/141.htm.