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September 8, 2009

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Trousers trial: woman fined, spared flogging

A SUDANESE judge convicted a woman journalist yesterday for violating public indecency laws by wearing trousers outdoors and fined her US$200, but did not impose a flogging penalty.

Lubna Hussein was among 13 women arrested on July 3 in a raid by public order police in the capital of 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 last Friday that 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 internationally 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 a fine to avoid international criticism. "There is a general sentiment that flogging is humiliating," he said.

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

London-based Amnesty International called on the Sudanese government to withdraw the charges against Hussein and repeal the law which justified "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.

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


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