UN experts urge Sudan to overturn ‘outrageous conviction’ for indecent dressing

A group of independent United Nations human rights experts have voiced alarm after a female Sudanese student was sentenced to public flogging and a fine for charges of “indecent dressing.” The experts urged that the convictions be overturned immediately.

A group of independent United Nations human rights experts have voiced alarm after a female Sudanese student was sentenced to public flogging and a fine for charges of “indecent dressing,” while another received a fine for the same charges. The experts urged that the convictions be overturned immediately.

“Public flogging of women is a continuing practice in the country, and the offence of modesty and the penalty of flogging are disproportionately used to punish women,” noted the experts, who all report to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

“This outrageous conviction must be overturned and the girls must be immediately released,” the experts urged in a news release. “We also call upon the Government of Sudan to repeal all legislation that discriminates on the grounds of gender and to comply with international standards.”

On 25 June 2015, the Public Order Police arrested twelve female students between 17 and 23 years old, originally from the war-torn Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan State. They were taken by Police in front of the Evangelical Church in Khartoum North, where they had attended a ceremony, and were brought to a local police station in Khartoum North. At the time of their arrest, some were wearing trousers and others skirts. It was reported that the Police subjected the students to degrading treatment and humiliating verbal abuse during their detention.

Two of the students were released about four hours after their arrest.  The ten others were released on bail on 27 June 2015 but charged with “indecent dressing” under Article 152 of Sudan’s 1991 Criminal Act which gives the Police extensive powers to arrest any person under that ground. The punishment, if they were to be found guilty, would be 40 lashes, or a fine, or both. In practice the law has been reported to be used exclusively against women.

These 10 women were taken to court on 28 June 2015 where the charges against them were confirmed and court dates set. One student, Fardous El Tom, 19, appeared in court on 6 July 2015, wearing another dress deemed indecent by the judge who, disregarding any due process, immediately sentenced her to a fine of 500 Sudanese pounds ($83) or a month in prison. Her fine was paid by human rights defenders and she will appear in court again in relation to the original charge.

While cases against eight of the ten female Christian students charged with ‘indecent dressing’ under Article 152 of the 1991 Penal Code of Sudan have concluded with either a not guilty verdict or a fine being imposed, other two girls have been sentenced to flogging and/or heavy fines.

On 16 August, El Tom was sentenced to be flogged 20 lashes and a fine of SDG500. On 14 July Rehab Omar Kakoum was sentenced to a fine of 500 SDG. Both girls have filed appeals, but no date has yet been given for the appeal trials.

Three other girls were convicted on 12 August and sentenced to pay a fine of SDG50 each. The other five were declared innocent and set free on 12 and 16 August.

The rights experts have officially expressed concern to the Sudanese authorities about current legislation that allows corporal punishment of women, and the devastating consequences that such violence has on their physical and psychological integrity and well-being.

“There is a pressing need to address the pattern of discrimination, abuse and torture as well as the oppression and denigration of women in the country,” they said. “We urge the Government of Sudan to put an end to these grave violations of women’s human rights.”

The UN experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, they include Eleonora Zielinska, Chair-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, Dubravka Simonovic, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences and Aristide Nononsi, UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan and Mr. Juan E. Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Special Procedures experts are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.