By: Alexandra Kinias
A disturbing video of a woman flogged in the streets of Khartoum, Sudan went viral on the Internet in December 2010, and within few days it was viewed by millions worldwide. The barbaric act committed against the Sudanese woman outraged the international community who some were caught by surprise that this medieval punishment is still in fact carried out on humans in the 21st century. The video that was shot by an amateur showed two police officers in uniform flogging an anonymous woman in a courtyard of a police station. Spectators gathered on the side and watched the painful and humiliating punishment being carried out.  Luckily in this time and age such crimes committed against humans can no longer be discreet, and with a click of the button they travel far enough to expose their brutality.
Under the Sharia law (Islamic law) that governs Sudan, public flogging is used to punish women. In fact, Sudanese women have become the primary victims of the implementation of the Sharia law since it was adopted in 1983. And its amendment in 1991, after the Islamic backed military coup of Hassan Al Bashir and his rise to power, added more limitations to women’s status and freedoms.
Flogging is justified and practiced according to Article 152 of the 1991 Sudanese Criminal Code ‘Obscene and Indecent Acts’ clause which states that:
“Whoever does in a public place an indecent act or an act contrary to public morals or wears an obscene outfit or contrary to public morals or causing an annoyance to public feelings shall be punished with flogging which may not exceed forty lashes or with fine or with both.” 
It is worth mentioning that wearing pants by women is considered an indecent act in Sudan. In the video you could hear the cracking of the bullwhip, the terrified woman’s agonizing screams echoing as she pleaded and moaned in pain when the long brutal whip slashed her body and face, unmercifully, and the laughter of the man in uniform, who carried out the flogging, when he noticed that he was being filmed. It was heart wrenching to watch the disgraceful reaction of a psychopath while he inflicted pain and humiliation on another human being.
No one knew at the time the video was released of the exact nature of the woman’s crime. Speculations varied between wearing pants and committing adultery. Uncovering the head and riding in a car with a male who is not an immediate relative; father, son or husband is also considered an indecent act in Sudan where women are also punished by public flogging.
The calls, efforts and pressure on the Sudanese government by Amnesty International and other women and human rights organizations to abolish this law have failed to bring an end to it. “The law is crafted in a way that makes it impossible to know what is decent or indecent,” said Tawanda Hondora, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Africa Program. “In practice, women are routinely arrested, detained, tried and then, on conviction, flogged, simply because a police officer disapproves of their clothing. The law is also discriminatory, in that it is used disproportionately against women.” 
The exposure of the video and the worldwide outrage it created caused an embarrassment to the Sudanese government, which announced a start of an investigation of the case.  That was an ironical statement merely issued to save face as the law remains and more women are suffering because of it. The shameful whipping was also criticized by Sudanese Women’s Union. Thirty of its members marched in the streets of Khartoum to protest this disgraceful act, but they were detained as they tried to hand a petition to the ministry of justice and were denied access to their lawyers. 
This heinous crime against women was practiced for two decades away from the eyes of the world. And the credit for attracting international attention to it goes to Sudanese reporter and UN employee Lubna Al-Hussein who was arrested in 2009 for wearing pants in public and was sentenced to 40 lashes. Hussein and 13 other women were arrested in a coffee shop in Khartoum for violation of the Islamic dress code. She refused to be flogged and decided to go on trial. Al-Hussein resigned her UN position that granted her immunity so she can challenge the law and invited other reporters to attend her trial and to write about it. Due to the controversy and international exposure that her case attracted, the verdict was reduced to a $200.00 fine, which Al-Hussein refused to pay. “This is not a case about me wearing pants. This is a case about annulling the article that addresses women’s dress code, under the title of indecent acts. This is my battle. This article is against the constitution and even against Islamic law itself,” she said after the hearing. 
The Sudanese Journalists’ Union paid the fine on her behalf the court dismissed her case. In a televised interview with an Egyptian channel, Al-Hussein told her story and expressed her dismay and concern over the future of the women in Sudan. “I am not the only woman who was subjected to this punishment. There are tens of thousands like me. In one year 43,000 women were arrested because of their clothing, not from all of Sudan, but in Khartoum only, as declared by the police general commissioner.
“This clause in the law contains both moral and physical violence. Physical violence is manifested in the punishment of lashing, which is a humiliating and degrading to the pride and dignity. The moral violence is manifested in the fact that it is called ‘indecent acts,’ and this is the reason that tens of thousands of women before me did not have the courage to complain. The courts that try such cases are not regular courts. They are special courts that were established during the presidency of Al-Bashir. In these courts the defendant has no right to defend herself. And in my case, because of the publicity and the public support I received, I took a lawyer along with me, but the judge refused to give the defense witnesses a chance to be heard.”
‘Indecent clothes’ according to the law is subjective and not defined. And when asked to explain what the definition of ‘indecent clothes’ is, Al-Hussein responded that such definition is left to the discretion of the law enforcement officers. “The law says clothes that offend public sentiment and the authorities [policemen] arbitrary interpret the law as they please. And under the same law that punishes women by 40 lashes for wearing pants, a man who rapes a boy, a girl or a woman is sent to one month in jail. And then they tell you this is the Islamic law, but in fact this is the law of Al-Bashir.” 
The international outcry caused Al-Hussein’s case in 2009 fell on deaf ears. And no action has yet been taken by the Sudanese government to end this crime. And following in Al-Hussein’s footsteps, civil engineer and women’s rights activist Amira Osman Hamed also defied the law when she refused to cover her hair in public. She was arrested in August 2013 in a small village outside Khartoum. To bring the law back into the spotlight, Hamed who is awaiting trial says that she is ready for any sentence – including flogging. “I take the risk to tell what is happening in our country and I hope that will be the last time a Sudanese woman is arrested by this law.” 
Hamed’s trial, which was initially due to take place on 19 September 2013, has repeatedly been postponed after her lawyers submitted an appeal to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice stating that Article 152 is unconstitutional. According to her defense team, the Minister of Justice is still deliberating on this appeal and no progress has been made in arranging a new trial. Amnesty International in a statement issued on June 30, 2014 vowed that they will continue to put pressure on the Sudanese government to retract Hamed’s charges altogether. In the meantime she is free on bail.  
It is shameful that such medieval practice is still implemented in broad daylight and that women have to pay the price for the insanity of lawmakers who draft such laws to ensure women’s submission by torturing and harassing them. There is no justification for the practice of such laws, no matter what label is added to them, other than the psychopathic, sadistic and misogynist mentalities behind them. And even with the assumption that these laws have been written in ancient books, there has to be a global effort to eradicate them not to revive them. And while Al-Hussein and Hamed’s cases attracted international attention, it is saddening to learn that there are thousands of other Sudanese women who are suffering in silence because of the consequences of this law. These women either have no means to bring their cases to the light or they chose to remain silent not to be stigmatized in their community as being charged with immorality.
1- Sudan woman whipped including in the face while police laugh–Warning Graphic images, Sky News, Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ve_JJFF5X-g
2- The Sudanese Penal Code 1991, Article 152, Obscene and Indecent Acts, page 40, European Country of Origin Network (ecoi.net) http://www.ecoi.net/ , http://www.ecoi.net/sudan, https://www.ecoi.net/file_upload/1329_1202725629_sb106-sud-criminalact1991.pdf
3- Amnesty International calls on Sudan to repeal law penalizing women for wearing trousers, September 4, 2009, Amnesty International, http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/news/amnesty-international-sudan-repeal-law-penalizing-women-wearing-trousers-20090904
4- SUDAN: Authorities investigate whipping of woman on YouTube video, December 14, 2010, Los Angeles Times, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2010/12/sudan-authorities-investigate-whipped-woman-video.html
5- Sudan YouTube flogging video: Women arrested at march, BBC News Africa, Dec 14, 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-11991558
6- Lubna Hussein Pants Trial Adjourns until Tuesday, The Huffington Post/Associated Press, Aug 20, 2009, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/07/29/lubna-hussein-pants-trial_n_246901.html
7- Interview with Lubna Al-Hussein on Egyptian television, Lubna Al-Hussein, Sudanese Journalist Sentenced to Lashing for Wearing Pants, Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWHu6AYshlI
8- Sudanese women risks flogging over uncovered hair, By: Ian Timberlake, September 8, 2013, for Fox News, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/09/08/sudan-woman-risks-flogging-over-uncovered-hair/
9- Amnesty International UK, Amira Osman Hamed, http://www.amnesty.org.uk/amira-osman-hamed-sudan-woman-headscarf-flog#.U-h0_vldWO0
10- Urgent Action, June 30, 2014, Amnesty International, http://www.amnestyusa.org/sites/default/files/f2u25313.pdf