The trial of a woman who wore clothing that Sudan deemed indecent got under way Monday.
Throngs of people waited outside the courthouse in the Khartoum as Lubna al-Hussein made her way in. In addition to the group of lawyers defending her, al-Hussein is also being represented by two Egyptian defense attorneys, she said. Al-Hussein faces up to 40 lashes for wearing pants considered too tight and a blouse deemed too sheer. She insisted on going on trial in order to have the law deemed unconstitutional, her lawyer said. Al-Hussein — a journalist who worked for the media department of the United Nations mission in Sudan — resigned from her U.N. position to avoid the immunity afforded to international workers. Her trial has been delayed once before, which “disappointed” her, said her lawyer Nadil Adib. “She wanted to have her case tried in order to clear her name and have the law announced unconstitutional,” he said.
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The human rights organization Amnesty International called for the charges to be dropped. “The manner in which this law has been used against women is unacceptable, and the penalty called for by the law — up to 40 lashes — abhorrent,” Tawanda Hondora, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Africa program, said in a statement. Al-Hussein was arrested along with 18 other women on July 3 at a Khartoum restaurant when police burst in and checked women for their clothing. “I don’t think she was targeted specifically,” Adib said. “They attack public and private parties and groups. They are called ‘morality police’ and she was just a victim of a round-up.” Put your questions to Dutch activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali here At the time of her arrest, she said, she was wearing pants, a blouse and a hijab, or head scarf. Police accused her of wearing trousers that were too tight and a blouse that was too sheer, she said. Scores of protesters gathered outside the courtroom in Khartoum to support al-Hussein in early August, when she was last scheduled to be tried.
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The demonstrators carried banners and wore headbands with the messages, “No return to the dark ages” and “No to suppressing women.” Others demanded an amendment to the country’s public order law that human rights activists say is vague on what constitutes indecent dress. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said he is concerned about al-Hussein’s case. “The United Nations will make every effort to ensure that the rights of its staff members are protected,” Ban said in July. “The flogging is against the international human rights standards. I call on all parties to live up to their obligations under all relevant international instruments.”