Trouser-Wearing Woman Fined $200 In Sudan

A Sudanese judge convicted a woman journalist on Monday for violating the public indecency law by wearing trousers outdoors and fined her $200, but did not impose a feared flogging penalty.

Lubna Hussein was among 13 women arrested July 3 in a raid by the public order police in Khartoum. Ten of the women were fined and flogged two days later. But Hussein and two others decided to go to trial.

"I will not pay a penny," she told the Associated Press while still in court custody, wearing the same trousers that had sparked her arrest.

Hussein said Friday she would rather go to jail than pay any fine, out of protest of the nation's strict laws on women's dress.

"I won't pay, as a matter of principle," she said. "I would spend a month in jail. It is a chance to explore the conditions in jail."

The case has made headlines in Sudan and around the world and Hussein used it to rally world opinion against the country's morality laws based on a strict interpretation of Islam.

Galal al-Sayed, Hussein's lawyer, said he advised her to pay the fine before appealing the decision. She refused, he said, "She insisted."

The lawyer said the judge ignored his request to present defense witnesses.

"The ruling is incorrect," he said, adding that the prosecution witnesses gave contradictory statements.

Al-Sayed said the judge had the option of choosing flogging, but apparently opted for fine to avoid international criticism. "There is a general sentiment in the world that flogging is humiliating."

Ahead of the trial, police rounded up dozens of female demonstrators, many of them wearing trousers, outside the courtroom.

The London-based Amnesty International on Friday called on the Sudanese government to withdraw the charges against Hussein and repeal the law which justifies "abhorrent" penalties.

Human rights and political groups in Sudan say the law is in violation of the 2005 constitution drafted after a peace deal ended two decades of war between the predominantly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south Sudan.

The Amnesty statement said Sudan had been urged to amend the law which permits flogging, on the grounds that it is state-sanctioned torture, after eight women were flogged in public in 2003 with plastic and metal whips leaving permanent scars on the women. The women had been picnicking with male friends.

As a U.N. staffer, Hussein should have immunity from prosecution but she has opted to resign so that she could stand trial and draw attention to the case.

In a column published in the British daily the Guardian Friday, Hussein said her case is not an isolated one, but is a showcase of repressive laws in a country with a long history of civil conflicts.

"When I think of my trial, I pray that my daughters will never live in fear of these police ... We will only be secure once the police protect us and these laws are repealed," she wrote.

Hussein said earlier she would take the issue all the way to Sudan's Constitutional Court necessary, but that if the court rules against her and orders the flogging, she's ready "to receive (even) 40,000 lashes" if that what it takes to abolish the law.

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El Deeb reported from Cairo.

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