Sudanese authorities have come under fire for arresting 11 Christian women on a charge of “indecent dressing” – a criminal offense in the Muslim majority country – after they wore miniskirts and trousers to their church service.
If convicted, each of the women will receive 40 lashes for their apparent misconduct – a punishment causing severe outrage among human rights activists. The arrest is believed to be a part of Sudan’s alleged discrimination campaign against the Christian minority.
The women – all between 17-23 years old – were arrested by the country’s morality police in front of the Evangelical Baptist Church in Khartoum. The group, from the Nuba Mountains region on border with South Sudan, was there to attend a ceremony.
“It’s outrageous that these women face a risk of being flogged simply for choosing to wear a skirt or a pair of trousers,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International's East Africa deputy director. “The public order law is imposed in a way which is hugely discriminatory and totally inappropriate and violates women’s rights.”
“Sudan must drop the charges and release these women immediately,” she demanded. “A hemline is not a crime.”
The women will appear in court at separate trials throughout the month.
As the women are being charged under the criminal act based on sharia law, the arrests raise eyebrows because Muslims and Christians have some cultural differences when it comes to dress code. Not to mention, the clothes worn by the young women reportedly covered their entire body.
One of the detainees, Fardos Al Toum, has already been pronounced guilty. However, due to mounting pressure from international organizations, the 19-year-old narrowly escaped the flogging.
“This is the weirdest decision I have ever heard: The judge instead of declaring her innocent has convicted her without punishment, and this is itself is unlawful decision,” Al Toum’s lawyer Muhammad Mustafa told The Guardian. “He gave her a lecture about the appearance of decent women, and he found himself in a bad position among the activists who came to support her. He didn’t want to lose his arrogance – that is why he came out with this decision.”
This is not the first time the Sudanese government has received criticism for being intolerant toward the Christian population.
Not too long ago, a 27-year-old woman was sentenced to death for converting to Christianity in Sudan.
Moreover, in 2009, the country caused international outrage for arresting a Muslim activist and media worker Lubna al-Hussein – along with 12 Christian women – for wearing trousers. The women were also threatened with 40 lashes each; however, those who pleaded guilty only received 10 lashes.