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The laughing Sudanese policeman

As even the occasional reader of my posts may have noticed, I like to slip in the odd musical reference. It’s a foible of mine. Anyway, here it is.

When I was young (long, long ago) I always seemed to be hearing so-called “novelty records” on the radio. You know the sort of thing. The Floral Dance (gulp), There’s A Hole In My Bucket (double gulp) and … maybe worst of all, The Laughing Policeman (aghhhh!!!). Oh how I didn’t laugh at this, either the first time or the 300th time that Radio 2 played it back in the 1970s.

So, here’s the point. Today I watched a new YouTube video showing a woman in Sudan being lashed by two policemen in front of onlookers in some sort of compound. Be warned if you plan to view it: it’s a horrible, upsetting sight. At one point the camera turns to show us … a laughing policeman. He’s one of the onlookers and he’s apparently HAVING A GOOD TIME.

The whole thing is utterly horrible. The woman screams pitifully during most of the two-minute video. According to Channel 4 News, at one point she cries out to her mother to help her. Of course no help comes, just more lashes.

We don’t officially know what this unnamed woman is being punished for (the YouTube posting is of unclear provenance) but it’s a good bet that it’s yet another instance of a Sudanese woman being punished for a “moral offence”, in particular concerning how she’s dressed. In the video you can see the woman's wearing trousers and this may be the cause. Last year – you’ll recall – there was the well-publicised case of Lubna Hussein who, along with ten other Sudanese women, was sentenced to lashes for wearing trousers in a restaurant. Lubna, a reasonably well-connected journalist and UN worker, took a stand and essentially defied the authorities to lash her in the full glare of international publicity (she invited 500 journalist to one of her court hearings). Thankfully, the authorities backed off.

Lubna's case and this new case are not exceptional in Sudan (the video is, the punishments are not). Amnesty has recorded how numerous women and girls in Sudan get sentenced under a notorious law (Article 152 of the Criminal Act 1991) prescribing a punishment of whipping (“not exceeding 40 lashes”) or a fine (or both) for those that conduct themselves in “an indecent manner or in a manner contrary to public morality”, or those that wear “an indecent or immoral dress, which causes annoyance to public feeling”.

As Amnesty’s Tawanda Hondora has pointed out,  the law is so vague that it’s impossible to know what’s supposed to be “decent” or “indecent”. It seems that trousers are sometimes indecent, and so are knee-length-skirts, but it’s basically arbitrary. In practice, women and girls (not men) get dragged into unfair courts by plain-clothes male police officers who basically apply their own standards. The women often receive summary sentences without even being able to see a lawyer. Sometimes the punishments are carried out immediately. More info here - including how in 2007 a girl was lashes 40 times for sending a text message deemed “indecent” by her accusers.

I take the view that no-one should be subjected to cruel punishments like flogging for whatever crime – “moral” or otherwise. As it happens Article 33 of Sudan’s own constitution takes the same line. So if Sudan’s own constitution forbids these punishments, why are they still happening?


About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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