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Sudan: Woman at risk of flogging for not wearing headscarf

Update: The judge of Jabal Awliya court postponed Amira Osman Hamed’s trial until 4 November.  This is to give Sudan’s Attorney General time to consider a written request from her lawyers asking for the charges to be dropped. As of May 2014, Amira remains in custody while she waits for her appeal to be considered.

Amira Osman Hamed, a civil engineer and women’s rights activist, is due to go on trial today (19 September) in Sudan for refusing to cover her hair with a headscarf in public. If convicted under Sudan’s laws against ‘indecent or immoral dress’, she risks a sentence of up to 40 lashes.

Amira was working in the village of Jabal Awliya on the outskirts of Khartoum on 27 August when she was approached by 10 members of the Public Order Police. They threatened to arrest her for refusing to wear her headscarf, then took her to the police station where she was charged with ‘indecent dress’. She was released on bail after four hours.

Her trial is due to start on Thursday 19 September. The first hearing was postponed from 1 September, reportedly due to the judge being ill. If she is convicted, she could be sentenced to a flogging of up to 40 lashes under Sudan’s brutal and discriminatory public decency laws. Background: Article 152 and the public order regime

Fined for wearing trousers

This isn’t the first time Amira has fallen foul of the laws against ‘indecent or immoral dress’ law. In 2002, she was convicted and fined for wearing trousers.  

And she isn’t the only woman to be targeted under this law.

The issue first came into the global spotlight in 2009 through the case of journalist Lubna Hussein, who was arrested along with 12 other women for wearing trousers. The court chose not to sentence Lubna to flogging following the international attention her case attracted, but she was jailed for a month for refusing to pay a fine and launching a public campaign about the issue.

Since then, we have documented several other cases of women and girls convicted under the ‘indecent or immoral’ dress law. Women and girls under the age of 18 have been hauled off the street by plain-clothed officers, usually for wearing trousers and sometimes knee length skirts.

Women are far more likely than men to be convicted for such offences, and the rules tend to be applied in a way which discriminates against women. Many choose to remain silent about their experience, in part due to the trauma of their arrest and partly due to the stigma of being charged with ‘indecent or immoral’ dress.

Article 152 and the public order regime

The law under which both Amira and Lubna were charged is Article 152 of Sudan’s 1991 Criminal Act. It is part of a wider set of laws and practices known as the ‘public order regime’, which stipulate flogging as punishment for any kind of behaviour deemed immoral, both in public and sometimes in private.

Article 152 states:

‘(1) Whoever commits, in a public space, an act, or conducts himself in an indecent manner, or a manner contrary to public morality, or wears an indecent or immoral dress, which causes annoyance to public feelings, shall be punished, with whipping, not exceeding forty lashes, or with a fine, or with both (2) The act shall be contrary to public morals if it is regarded as such according to the standard of the person's religion or the custom of the country where the act takes place.’

Since the public order laws are so vaguely worded, and don’t specify what is meant by ‘immoral or indecent dress’ it’s up to Public Order Police, such as the people who arrested Amira, to decide if a person is ‘acting in an indecent manner’ or ‘causing annoyance to public feelings’.

What is clear is that the punishment of up to 40 lashes which can be imposed under this law is in violation of international law. Flogging is banned by the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which Sudan has signed up.

Therefore, as well as calling for the charges against Amira to be dropped we want Sudan to abolish the inhumane penalty of flogging and also repeal  Article 152, which is both discriminatory and denies women their rights to freedom of expression.

What will we do with your name?

We will add your name - but not your phone number - to the following co-signed letter, which will then be sent to Sudanese President, HE Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir and the Minister of Justice, Mohamed Bushara Dousa.

Your Excellency Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir We are writing due to our concern about the case of Amira Osman Hamed, who is due to go on trial today (19th September) for refusing to cover her hair in public, and is at risk of receiving up to 40 lashes for ‘indecent or immoral dress.’

We urge the Sudanese authorities to drop the charge against Amira Osman immediately and unconditionally. Further, we call on the authorities to abolish the penalty of flogging, which violates the absolute prohibition against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This prohibition is contained in the Convention against Torture and Other Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which Sudan is a signatory.

We urge the Sudanese authorities to repeal Article 152 of the Criminal Code of 1991, in conformity with their obligations under international human rights law. Thank you for your attention on this matter,

Yours sincerely,

Prefer to write your own letter?

You can find all the information on what to include in your letter or email and the addresses of the Sudanese authorities in our urgent action casesheet – see below.

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I'd really love to support this cause, but I don't want to give my phone number. If there was an online petition to sign, I'd join it in a flash. Why deny people the chance to support your causes because they are reluctant to give out their phone number?

Karen Tucker 8 years ago

I agree with Karen... I need an online petition to participate.

amandabinggeli 8 years ago

I agree- it's always good to have an online petition option

concernedbusinesswoman 8 years ago

I also agree with online petitioning as I've tried emailing a letter and they're all bouncing back. I very much want to help and make a difference but feeling rather helpless just now : (

Liz-a-roo 8 years ago

Hi, SMS actions are one of a range of tools we use to apply pressure to achieve human rights change. The benefit of text is that we can contact members of our SMS action network, Pocket Protest, within hours of an urgent action coming through and also enable people to take action quickly and easily when they're out and about.

However, we don't want to exclude anyone from taking action so we always include details of how to write a letter, send an email or - in some cases - an online petition version of the action.

Liz-a-roo, thanks for alerting us to the problems with the email address here. We will investigate and see if we can find an alternative email address to contact.

Anonymous 8 years ago