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Sudanese Amira Osman Hamed speaks with an AFP journalist during an interview in Khartoum, Sudan on September 8, 2013. (Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty )

Sudan

Activist Faces Down 40 Lashes

Amira Osman Hamed, arrested for not wearing a veil in public, faces a brutal lashing for 'indecent behavior' if convicted.

Amira Osman Hamed’s name has been spelled many ways in the Western media, but one essential fact remains the same—she wants to be flogged 40 times to make a point about human rights in Sudan.

On August 27 Amira was arrested for failing to wear a headdress or veil in public. Her initial trial took place on September 19, and its conclusion has since been pushed back to November 4, though other reports contend the charges have been dropped altogether. The un-intelligibility of the law that Amira has been accused of violating is as unclear as the information disseminated about where her trial stands. The law also is—among many other awful things—a perverted understanding of Islamic religious guidelines, which are being manipulated to suppress an increasingly riled-up nation.

“My first take is that women are flogged for political reasons, to scare people of saying no or doing something not approved by the government,” says Azaz Shami, a Sudan-born activist. “It is a mere means of deterrence. The public order law is quite vague as are many other law articles, to add more uncertainty and empower those who could apply it, most of those targeted are women who are are either activist or from the marginalized areas.”

For her courageous and calculated act of defiance, Amira has been charged with violating article 152 under Sudan’s 1991 Criminal Code. The article, part of Chapter XV which covers “Offenses Against Honour, Reputation and Public Morals” states:

“(1) 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.

(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.”

A spokesperson from Girifna, a nonviolent resistance movement in the country, noted “The article does not define what is meant by 'indecent' behavior.” The whole point of Amira’s actions are to receive the punishment according to the law and to raise the wider point that many women are subject to this treatment, but don’t have the money, education or societal backing to take on the rule and make a statement that may raise international awareness.

“Because what usually happens is that summary punishments happen so quickly and on the spot in these public order courts, and many women prefer that because of social stigma,” said Girifna’s spokesperson. “They don't realize that they have the right to a lawyer and to take this to a proper court, and in many cases, minority women cannot pay the bail of $100-200, so they end up in prison for up to a month, and endure sexual assault from police officers. So it's really a socioeconomic thing too, because richer women can pay bail to avoid prison but not women from the periphery working in the informal economy.”

Many women are subject to this treatment, but don't have the money, education or societal backing to take on the rule and make a statement that may raise international awareness.

As such, most of these cases are not leaked to the public unless an activist is punished. Amira is a member of the No to the Repression of Women in Sudan campaign and was previously arrested in a protest marking International Women’s Day in March 2011.

A recent report on global restrictions on religion from the Pew Research Center found that as of 2011, 53 of the 198 nations included in their study (27 percent) had seen an increase in such restrictions, a marked (16 percent) increase from 21 countries recorded in 2007 (which represented 11 percent of the nations surveyed that year).

More than these numbers, however, sickening videos like this one, made as recently as last week, demonstrate how swiftly the murky Public Order laws can be forced upon the more disenfranchised of the nation. Worse than watching the lengthy whip cavalierly slicing through the air, are the woman's defeated moans after each lash.

“Have you have you seen the new video of a working woman being flogged? She is apparently from the working class with no influence or backup,” Azaz asks. She also adds that women from the pro-government elite are never subjugated and humiliated in this manner.

Young girls, however, often are. If they resist or show lack of interest, they run the risk of being accused of 'indecent' behavior and beaten or arrested. According to Al-Ahram Weekly, almost 51,000 women in the last year alone say they were harassed by the Society Safety Police (SSP) and 98 percent say they were sexually abused. Tellingly, this mistreatment has only increased since the Public Order law was passed in 1991.

Amira isn’t the first Sudanese woman who has determined to put herself in harm’s way to make a very global point about human rights and Sudanese law. In 2009, Lubna Hussein, another activist/journalist was arrested for wearing trousers in public. She was not pleased when, after turning heads internationally, she was spared the beating and fined $200, which she promptly refused to pay. The Sudanese Journalists’ Association (SJA) eventually paid the fine, and she was forcibly freed.

As of September 25, the Internet in Sudan had been cut off amidst protests about economic reforms and fuel prices. It has been posited by some Sudanese that these protests, expected after said reforms were put in place, were the impetus for Amira’s delayed trial. Because of this, scheduled interviews with women behind the blog Activism Against Public Order could not be conducted.

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Sudanese protestors demonstrate in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman after the government announced steep price rises for petroleum products after suspending state subsidies as part of crucial economic reforms on September 25, 2013. (STR/AFP/Getty)

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