Sudanese police arrested 43 people protesting against the Public Order Law, a week after a video circulated on the Internet showing police whipping a woman, one of the detainees and an opposition spokeswoman said.
“We were expressing our anger peacefully,” Amal Habani said by phone from inside the police station in Khartoum, the capital. “We want the abolishment of all laws that humiliate Sudanese women.”
The protest, which took place outside the Ministry of Justice, was called by a group known as “No to Subjugating Women Initiative.” Its goal was to deliver a memorandum to the minister calling for the abolition of Public Order Law, Habani said. Policemen beat the protesters and dragged them on the floor as they arrested them, she said.
The Public Order Law criminalizes acts such as the mixing of unmarried couples sitting together and women wearing trousers in public, and punishes them with fines or lashes. Amnesty International has called on the Sudanese government to amend its penal code and abolish laws that allow for flogging as a penalty, calling it “cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.”
“They barred their lawyers and families from seeing them,” said Mariam al-Mahdi, spokeswoman of the Umma opposition party. The police are still questioning 38 women and five men, she said.
Al-Adel Adel Yaqoub, the deputy head of the Sudanese police, and Al-Sir Ahmed Omar, the head of the police’s media department, declined to comment when contacted by phone.
Lubna Hussein, a female journalist and former United Nations employee, stood trial in July last year on charges of wearing indecent clothing in a case that drew international criticism of Sudan, including by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and rights groups. The court fined Hussein $210 for wearing trousers and didn’t order lashes.
Seven male models and one female makeup artist were convicted of indecent acts this month and fined 200 Sudanese pounds ($84) each following a mixed fashion show, their defense lawyer, Adam Bakr, said.
Rights groups say the law does not give guidelines to what constitutes an indecent act, leaving it up to the personal interpretation of each policeman.
Sudan has been governed by Islamic Shariah law since 1983 when it was introduced by former president Gaafar al-Nimeiri.