A Christian woman who faces 40 lashes for wearing trousers in Sudan made a dramatic appearance in court yesterday to fight her case.
Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein walked into the packed hearing in the same green slacks that got her arrested.
Under Islamic laws used in parts of the country, it is illegal for a woman to wear trousers rather than long skirts in public.
But the law is not supposed to apply to non-Muslims like Miss Hussein, a former journalist who works for the United Nations.
And it is only imposed sporadically in the capital, Khartoum, where she was arrested.
Indecency cases are not uncommon in Sudan, but Miss Hussein has used hers to campaign against dress codes.
Yesterday journalists scuffled with police armed with batons outside the court and some reporters, who were briefly detained, had equipment confiscated.
Scores of women, some wearing slacks, attended to support Miss Hussein.
The case was adjourned as lawyers discussed whether her status as a UN employee gave her legal immunity.
After the hearing, defence lawyer Nabil Adib Abdalla said she had agreed to resign from the UN in time for the next session on August 4, to make sure the case continued.
Mr Abdalla said: 'First of all she wants to show she is totally innocent, and using her immunity will not prove that. ‘Second she wants to fight the law. The law is too wide. It needs to be reformed. This is turning into a test case.’ He said Miss Hussein was ready to face the maximum penalty for the criminal offence of wearing indecent dress in public, of 40 lashes and an unlimited fine. Miss Hussein was arrested in June when police raided a party she was attending at a restaurant in Khartoum’s Riyadh district.
She said before the hearing: 'Thousands of women are punished with lashes in Sudan but they stay silent. The law is being used to harass women and I want to expose this.'
She said a number of other women arrested with her received lashes. But her case was sent for trial when she called in a lawyer. Northern Sudan is governed by Islamic law which includes restrictions on public decency, particularly for women.
While most women wear traditional dresses in public, some, particularly from the mostly Christian south, wear slacks and more Western clothes.
Lashing is often administered minutes after a trial, in public outside the court room for male defendants but generally in private for women.