, KHARTOUM, Aug 4 – The trial of a Sudanese woman journalist who faces 40 lashes for wearing trousers was adjourned on Tuesday as police used tear gas to disperse hundreds of demonstrators outside the Khartoum court.
The judge decided to delay the trial to September to determine whether Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein, who also works with the United Nations, has legal immunity, defence lawyer Jalal al-Sayyid said.
Hussein, who is in her 30s, has been charged with public indecency after she was arrested last month along with 12 other women who were wearing trousers at a Khartoum restaurant.
Hussein has said that she wants to be tried, in defiance of a law that decrees whipping for wearers of ‘indecent’ clothes, and told a hearing last week that she wished to waive her UN immunity.
But in an apparent disagreement within her defence team, a lawyer argued that she had immunity and asked the judge to ignore Hussein’s wishes, Sayyid said.
The judge will defer the issue to the Sudanese foreign ministry ahead of her next court date on September 7, he said.
Police dispersed hundreds of women and activists from Sudanese opposition political parties who demonstrated in support of Hussein outside the court house after they tried blocking a road, an AFP correspondent reported.
On emerging from the court, which was closed to reporters, Hussein again insisted she wanted to be tried and said she had resigned from her job in the UN’s media office in Sudan.
"The court should not have delayed the trial," she told journalists.
Ten women have already been whipped for the same offence — including Christians — and Hussein has said she will fight a guilty verdict and the law itself.
"I’m ready for anything to happen. I’m absolutely not afraid of the verdict," she told AFP in an interview on Monday.
"If I’m sentenced to be whipped, or to anything else, I will appeal. I will see it through to the end, to the constitutional court if necessary.
"And if the constitutional court says the law is constitutional, I’m ready to be whipped not 40 but 40,000 times," said Hussein, who also works for the left-wing Al-Sahafa newspaper.
Hussein said she wants to fight to get rid of the law, saying it "is both against the constitution and sharia (Islamic law)."
"If some people refer to the sharia to justify flagellating women because of what they wear, then let them show me which Koranic verses or hadith (sayings of the Prophet Mohammed) say so. I haven’t found them," she said.
Police have also cracked down on another woman journalist, Amal Habbani, who published an article in Ajrass al-Horreya newspaper (Bells of Freedom) entitled: "Lubna, a case of subduing a woman’s body."
Unlike many other Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf, women have a prominent place in Sudanese public life. Nevertheless, human rights organisations say some of the country’s laws discriminate against women.