STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
And what started with a pair of pants helped galvanize Sudan's women's movement. NPR's Gwen Thompkins has this report.
GWEN THOMPKINS: Lubna Ahmed Hussain says it happens a lot.
LUBNA AHMED HUSSAIN: (Through translator) Yes, I have seen, in the Nile Avenue - I have seen the boys have arrested some of the girls who are wearing pants. And now if you go into the Nile Avenue wearing pants they will arrest you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SIRENS)
THOMPKINS: Okay. Got to go. Under Sudan's decency law, any man can accuse any woman of dressing indecently. She could have bare wrists or bare head, or she could be wearing trousers. That's how Hussain got arrested. Back in July, police nabbed her and several other trouser-wearing women at a Khartoum nightclub. And when Hussain said the decency law was unconstitutional, the officer wasn't interested.
AHMED HUSSAIN: (Through translator) I told them that this is against the law. They replied and said, if you don't like the law, go to the parliament and tell them.
THOMPKINS: That got her mad. Hussain hired a team of lawyers. She quit her job at the United Nations to press the case. She connected with women's groups and she became an activist.
AHMED HUSSAIN: (Through translator) I was very angry and I was thinking that I will do the media campaign in a way that, like the government that's sponsoring these laws, never rest again.
THOMPKINS: Scholar Abdul Rahim Ali Ibrahim(ph) cites the Quran.
ABDUL RAHIM ALI IBRAHIM: In sharia, this would classically be seen as (Foreign language spoken). It can be translated as the responsibility of society and government to look after Islamic values by encouraging what's good and preventing what is evil or bad.
THOMPKINS: By taking her case to court, Hussain faced the maximum penalty of 40 lashes and the loss of her reputation. Again, Abdul Rahim Ali Ibrahim.
RAHIM ALI IBRAHIM: For any girl to be taken to court because she has infringed the law of decency is not something that a Sudanese girl would like to do. I think it's very embarrassing. This is our society.
THOMPKINS: Is that Mao in the picture?
AHMED HUSSAIN: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
THOMPKINS: So, that's really Mao?
AHMED HUSSAIN: Yeah.
THOMPKINS: Mustafa Abu al-Azim(ph) likens her case to that of American scholar Henry Louis Gates in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Al-Azim edits Akir Laza(ph), which is a pro- government newspaper. He says both arrests got people talking about much bigger issues. And both arrests could have been avoided.
MUSTAFA ABU AL: (Through translator) I suspect that at the moment of the arrests, Lubna got into a clash with the officers and the police took a reaction.
THOMPKINS: At trial, the arresting officers gave conflicting statements. The judge never allowed Hussain's lawyers to present their case, and the judge ruled in favor of the police. But he spared Hussain the lash. Hussain is appealing the decision.
(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)
THOMPKINS: Women's rights activists sang this song and many others as they demonstrated for Hussain at all of her court dates. And the police beat some of them severely. Fahima Hashim(ph) sees Article 152 as...
FAHIMA HASHIM: Just more control over women's bodies, women's sexuality, women's mobility.
(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)
THOMPKINS: Nahid Mohammad al-Hassan Ali(ph) is a psychiatrist. She says police stopped her for laughing.
NAHID MOHAMMAD AL: In 2000, when me and my husband, when we were in our car laughing with each other, they stop us and they just want to harass us. He says that this is not your wife - unlikely to be your wife and husband so intimate and laughing and so on.
THOMPKINS: Women's groups are petitioning parliament to change the criminal code, but most lawmakers appear unwilling to do so. And yet Samir Robby(ph) is convinced that Article 152 will die in her lifetime. Luckily, she's only 27 years old.
SAMIR ROBBY: (Through translator) People say that I'm over-optimistic, but I am not over-optimistic, because 1,000 miles journey starts in a mile.
THOMPKINS: Robby is a psychology student in Khartoum. She says she wears trousers all the time, and mini-skirts too. Her mother complains.
ROBBY: (Through translator) When she yells at me, I kiss her on both cheeks.
THOMPKINS: Gwen Thompkins, NPR News, Khartoum.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
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