Sudanese woman fined for wearing trousers

KHARTOUM Mon Sep 7, 2009 9:57am EDT

1 of 4. Lubna Hussein, a former journalist and U.N. press officer, leaves the court after her trial in Sudan's capital Khartoum, September 7, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

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KHARTOUM (Reuters) - A Sudanese woman was found guilty of indecency and fined on Monday for wearing trousers in a case that has attracted worldwide attention, but she will be spared lashes, an official who attended the trial said.

The woman, Lubna Hussein, was arrested at a party in July with 12 other women and had faced the possibility of 40 lashes for wearing trousers deemed indecent. The court ordered her to pay a fine of 500 pounds ($209) or face a month in jail.

Hussein's case was seen as a test of Sudan's Islamic decency regulations, which many women activists say are vague and give individual police officers undue latitude to determine what is acceptable clothing for women.

A former reporter who was working for the United Nations at the time of her arrest, Hussein has publicized her case, posing in loose trousers for photos and calling for media support.

Reached by telephone after the verdict, Hussein said she would refuse to pay the fine: "I will not pay the money, and I will go to prison."

Defense lawyer Nabil Adib Abdalla has previously said the law on indecent dress was so wide it contravened Hussein's right to a fair trial.

"She was found guilty, but we know she is not guilty ... This is a clear violation of the constitution, of women's rights, and the peace agreement," said Yasser Arman, a government official who attended the trial and is also a senior member of the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement.

Ten of the other women arrested with Hussein have pleaded guilty and have been whipped, Hussein previously said.

PROTESTS AT COURT

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. The cases prompted scores of women to gather near the court ahead of the verdict to lend support to Hussein.

Hussein argued her clothes, a pair of green slacks that she also wore to her first court appearance, were respectable and that she did not break the law.

"Lubna has given us a chance. She is very brave. Thousands of girls have been beaten since the 1990s, but Lubna is the first one not to keep silent," protester Sawsan Hassan el-Showaya told Reuters before the verdict.

But scuffles erupted at the protest before the court session even began between the women and Islamists, who shouted religious slogans and denounced Hussein and her supporters as prostitutes and demanded a harsh punishment for Hussein.

Riot police quickly cleared the scene, beating some protesters with batons. Around 40 women protesters were detained.

Hussein has said she resigned from her U.N. job to give up any legal immunity so she could continue with the case, prove her innocence and challenge the decency law.

U.N. officials have said the United Nations told Sudan that Hussein was immune from legal proceedings as she was a U.N. employee at the time of her arrest. But the case was allowed to proceed after Sudan's foreign ministry advised the court that Hussein was not immune.

(Reporting by Andrew Heavens and Khalid Abdel Aziz; Writing by Cynthia Johnston)

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