Protesters back Sudanese woman in trousers case

KHARTOUM Tue Aug 4, 2009 8:00am EDT

1 of 2. Lubna Hussein (C), a former journalist and U.N. press officer, gestures outside the court after her trial in Sudan's capital Khartoum August 4, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallh

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KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Dozens of protesters rallied outside a Khartoum court on Tuesday in support of a Sudanese woman facing 40 lashes for wearing trousers in public, a case that has become a public test of Sudan's indecency laws.

Lubna Hussein, a former journalist and U.N. press officer, was arrested with 12 other women during a party at a Khartoum restaurant in early July and charged with committing an indecent act.

Women's groups have complained that the law gives no clear definition of indecent dress, leaving the decision of whether to arrest a women up to individual police officers.

Ululating women outside the courtroom carried banners and headbands with the message "No return to the dark ages" and shouted slogans against laws which ban dress deemed indecent.

Speaking after the hearing, Hussein said the judge had adjourned her case until September 7.

"They want to check with the U.N. whether I have immunity from prosecution. I don't know why they are doing this because I have already resigned from the United Nations. I think they just want to delay the case," she told Reuters.

Riot police advanced toward the crowd, beating their shields with batons, to try to disperse them. One officer fired what appeared to be blank rounds into the air, a Reuters witness said.

"We are against this law. It is against women, against Islam and against human rights," said Zainab Badradin, one of the women in the crowd.

Indecency cases are not uncommon in Sudan, where there is a large cultural gap between the mostly Muslim and Arab-oriented north and the mainly Christian south.

Hussein has attracted attention by publicizing her case, posing for photos in her loose green trousers and inviting journalists to campaign against dress codes sporadically imposed in the capital.

Her case has attracted widespread support among women's groups in Khartoum, but there were also men among Tuesday's protesters.

"Her main argument is that her clothes are decent and that she did not break the law," defense lawyer Nabil Adib Abdalla told Reuters shortly before the hearing.

"Failing that, we will ask for a stay of the proceedings to challenge the trial in the constitutional court ... We are saying the law is so widely drafted that it contravenes her basic right, her right to a fair trial," he added.

(Reporting by Andrew Heavens; editing by Patrick Graham)

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