, KHARTOUM, Aug 3 – A Sudanese journalist facing 40 lashes for wearing "indecent" trousers vowed on the eve of her judgment that she is ready to be whipped 40,000 times in her bid to change the country’s harsh laws.
Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein, who works for the media department of the United Nations Mission in Sudan, is to be judged on Tuesday after waiving the immunity granted to UN workers.
She is to be judged under Article 152 of Sudanese law, which promises 40 lashes for anyone "who commits an indecent act which violates public morality or wears indecent clothing."
Hussein, who is in her 30s and whose husband died of kidney failure, told AFP in a telephone interview: "I’m ready for anything to happen. I’m absolutely not afraid of the verdict."
Police arrested Hussein and 12 other women wearing trousers at a Khartoum restaurant on July 3. Two days later 10 of the women accepted a punishment of 10 lashes, but Hussein is appealing in a bid to eliminate such rough justice.
The other two women are also facing charges.
"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," Hussein said.
"And if the constitutional court says the law is constitutional, I’m ready to be whipped not 40 but 40,000 times."
Hussein invited scores of journalists to her first court hearing on Wednesday, when she made a point of wearing the same clothes she wore when she was arrested — moss-green slacks with a loose floral top and green headscarf.
Hordes of people, many of them female supporters and some also wearing trousers out of solidarity, crammed into the courthouse for the hearing.
"My main objective is to get rid of Article 152," Hussein said. "This article is against both the constitution and sharia," the Islamic law ruling northern Sudan.
Adding insult to injury, some of the women whipped in July were from animist and Christian south Sudan where sharia law does not apply.
"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."
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.
"Tens of thousands of women and girls have been whipped for their clothes these last 20 years. It’s not rare in Sudan," Hussein said.
"It’s just that none of them would dare complain, because who would believe that they were whipped just for wearing trousers? They’re afraid of scandal, of raising doubts about their morals.
"I want people to know. I want these women’s voices to be heard."
By bringing the practice into the public eye "I’ve already won half the battle," she said, vowing to wear the same "indecent" clothes to her judgment on Tuesday.