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Journalist prosecuted for writing article, faces large fine

(ANHRI/IFEX) - The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) condemns the Sudanese authorities for continuing to persecute reporters and oppress all voices defending freedom of expression. ANHRI requests that the Sudanese government abolish or change the public discipline law, one of the most oppressive and discriminating laws against women, as it violates basic individual freedoms.

The general discipline police authority filed a communiqué against female reporter Amal Habbani, editor of the column "Tiny Issues" in "Ajrass Al Horreya" ("Freedom Bells") newspaper, after she wrote an article on 12 July 2009 supporting her colleague Lubna Al Hussein.

Amal was questioned by the press and publication prosecution on 20 July. The communiqué is based on Article 159 of the criminal law regarding defamation. The general discipline police authority claimed a compensation of 10 million Sudanese pounds (approx. US$4,100,000) to be paid by Amal.

Amal wrote an article entitled "Lubna . . . A Case Of Subduing (a) Woman's Body," in which she asserted that Lubna's case is not about fashion, but rather a political tactic to intimidate and terrorize opponents of the general discipline law, which is most oppressive to women.

Lubna Al Hussein, editor of the column "Men's Talk", was recently tried in the general discipline court, after being accused of "sensational dressing up." The general discipline police authority considered Lubna's dressing style a threat to the values and virtues of Sudanese society. Conviction, following such an accusation, results in receiving 40 whips in public as per Article 152/1991 of the criminal law.

On 19 July, Sudanese women activists protested in support of Lubna on the premises of "Ajras Al Horrya" newspaper. Reporters, lawyers and human rights activists also participated in the protest.

In recent years, Sudanese security forces have often broken into private parties and congregations. Thousands of Sudanese women have been whipped, imprisoned and fined, after being convicted on charges of "sensational dressing up."

Most interesting is that the police officer investigating these cases, all of which are against women, asks each accused woman to lift her arms up and turn around one complete turn. After taking a close and thorough look across her entire body, front and rear, he decides whether her clothes are seductive or not. Then the defendants are judged in the general discipline court where they face verdicts of whipping, imprisonment or fining.

ANHRI requests that all human rights, women's rights and freedom press NGOs to support Lubna and Amal and to stop such cruel and unfair trials that violate every known international treaty defending women's rights and press freedom.

ANHRI maintains that these trials are invalid and illegal as the defendant is neither assigned a lawyer nor allowed to speak for herself in court.

ANHRI asserts that arresting innocents and accusing them because of their apparel is a blatant violation to individual freedom. Choosing what to wear is a basic right to privacy.

These rights are listed in the international human rights declaration reflecting the principles of international law. State intervention into basic rights should be based on justifiable and agreed upon reasons in a democratic society, which is not the case in Sudan.

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