Lubna may not return to Sudan

November 26, 2009 12:00 am

, PARIS, Nov 26 – The Sudanese journalist briefly jailed for wearing "indecent trousers" said Wednesday she might not return to her country but instead continue her campaign for women\’s rights from abroad.

Lubna Ahmed Hussein, who said she defied a travel ban and sneaked out of Sudan wearing a full Islamic veil to hide her identity, said however she was not planning to ask for asylum in Europe.

"I am waiting for the network of women in Sudan (campaigning for women\’s rights)… to decide whether it is better for me to continue the campaign at home or abroad," she told reporters in Paris.

"I will follow their decision," she said, speaking on the UN-sponsored International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Hussein said Sudanese authorities had tried to stop her leaving the country but that she had contacts in Khartoum airport who helped her get past passport control and board an international flight.

Hussein was in France to promote her new book "40 coups de fouet pour un pantalon" (Forty Lashes for a Pair of Trousers), which is published in French and is set to be translated into English and other languages.

She said that 43,000 women were arrested in 2008 in the Khartoum region by police tasked with enforcing Sudan\’s laws on indecent clothing for women.

"If that\’s happening in Khartoum, we can only imagine what\’s going on in the rest of the country," which is Africa\’s largest state and home to 42 million people, she told reporters.

Sudanese law stipulates a maximum of 40 lashes for wearing indecent clothing. Women in trousers are not a rare sight in Sudan but officials can take offence at trousers which reveal too much of a woman\’s shape.

"The law is generally applied to poor women, while better-off women can pay a bribe to get off," said Lubna, adding that a whip made of hippopotamus leather is sometimes used to administer the lashes.

Women accused of wearing indecent clothing are not allowed a defence lawyer in court, she said.

"Even a murderer has the right to defend himself, but these women do not," she said.

Hussein, a journalist and women\’s rights campaigner who also worked for the United Nations, on Tuesday met French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who praised her "simple heroism" for standing up to Sudanese authorities.

She is due to leave France next week to go again to Egypt, where she is to receive an award.

She is hosted by the French women\’s rights group "Ni Putes Ni Soumises" (Neither Whores Nor Submissives), which said she left Sudan on September 18 to fly to Yemen, then to Cairo and Amman before arriving in Paris.

At each stage of the trip she met with local women\’s rights groups.

Hussein faced a punishment of 40 lashes when she was convicted in July for wearing her green trousers in public.

But a court in September ordered her to pay a fine instead, while 10 of the 12 other women arrested with her at a Khartoum restaurant were lashed.

Hussein refused to pay the fine and spent a day in jail before a local journalists\’ union paid her fine.

Her arrest spurred her to wage a public challenge to the law.


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