sudanese demonstrators
Abd Raouf/AP
Dozens of Sudanese women protest Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2009, outside a Khartoum court
where Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein is on trial for wearing trousers in public, a violation of
the country's strict Islamic laws.

Sudanese Female Journalist Faces 40 Lashes for Wearing Pants

August 05, 2009 05:40 PM
by Shannon Firth
Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein says she wants to be tried and has waived her immunity as a United Nations worker. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the Khartoum courthouse to show their support.

Journalist Defies Sudanese Law

Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein was arrested with 12 other women who were wearing pants in a restaurant in Khartoum on July 3. On Tuesday, al-Hussein’s trial was delayed until Sept. 7, after her defense lawyer argued that she has legal immunity because she works with the United Nations, Agence France Press reported. Al-Hussein, a columnist for the left-wing newspaper Al-Sahafa, insists that she wants to be tried and has resigned from the U.N.’s media office in Sudan. She expressed her wish to waive her U.N. immunity and told journalists, “The court should not have delayed the trial,” AFP reported.

According to AFP, Article 152 of Sudanese law outlines the punishment for her offense as 40 lashes. Ten of the 12 other women who were arrested with al-Hussein agreed to receive a punishment of 10 lashes; National Post explains that their sentences were reduced because they pleaded guilty.

In a televised interview available on the France 24 Web site, al-Hussein explained her situation. “This is not an issue of acquittal, conviction, dropping the case or anything else,” she said. “The issue that concerns the entire Sudanese people is that this law is unconstitutional.”

The Sudan Tribune reports that Amal Habbani, a journalist and colleague of al-Hussein, has been charged with defamation for publishing an article supporting al-Hussein’s actions. The police have fined her 10 million Sudanese pounds ($400,000).

A press release issued by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information called the public discipline law “one of the most oppressive and discriminating laws against women as it violates basic individual freedoms.” The organization demands that the law be amended or eliminated.

Related Topic: Does the Koran condone domestic violence?

When Laleh Bakhtiar, an Iranian-American woman, was translating the Koran into English, she came across a controversial line in Chapter 4, Verse 34, Neil MacFarquhar reported for The New York Times. The verse states that a disobedient woman must be “admonished, then abandoned in bed” and finally “‘beaten’…unless her behavior improves,” MacFarquhar wrote.

Bakhtiar said the verse used the word “daraba,” which is most often translated as “beaten,” but she was certain there had to be another possibility. “When the prophet had difficulty with his wives, what did he do? He didn't beat anybody, so why would any Muslim do what the prophet did not?" she said to the Times.

After more research, Bakhtiar found her answer. According to Edward William Lane's Arabic-English Lexicon, a 19th century dictionary, another definition of daraba was "to go away.”

Opinion & Analysis: Do Western feminists neglect Muslim women’s issues?

Robert Fulford, a writer for the National Post, contends that “Western feminists remain pathetically silent” on cases such as al-Hussein’s. He cites blogger Deborah Kate as an example. Fulford writes that Kate criticizes the practice of stoning, enforced marriage and female circumcision in her blog, but then demonstrates “the fondness for fashionable moral relativism that is now epidemic in feminist circles.” According to Fulford, Kate concludes that supporting sanctions against countries that condone crimes against women would be unfair. “I realize I cannot force my version of feminism upon non-Western women,” Fulford quotes Kate as writing.

Fulford also warns that the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism aren’t restricted to developing countries. Referring to the recent honor killings in Canada, Fulford writes that the killings “apparently demonstrate that the oppression of women can be imported into countries where it has no support in law.”

NEXT: Do Burkas Symbolize Freedom of Expression or Oppression?>

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