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Young woman risks 20 lashes for ‘indecent dressing’ – UN experts urge Sudan to overturn “outrageous conviction”

GENEVA (28 August 2015) – A group of United Nations human rights experts* expressed alarm after a female Sudanese student, Ferdous Al Toum, was sentenced to public flogging and a heavy fine for charges of ‘indecent dressing’. Another student, Rehab Omer, received a hefty fine for the same charges. “Public flogging of women is a continuing practice in the country, and the offence of modesty and the penalty of flogging are disproportionately used to punish women,” they noted.

“This outrageous conviction must be overturned and the girls must be immediately released,” the UN experts urged. “We also call upon the Government of Sudan to repeal all legislation that discriminates on the grounds of gender and to comply with international standards.”

The human rights experts have officially expressed concern to the Sudanese authorities about current legislation that allows corporal punishment of women, and the devastating consequences that such violence has on their physical and psychological integrity and well-being.

“There is a pressing need to address the pattern of discrimination, abuse and torture as well as the oppression and denigration of women in the country,” they said. “We urge the Government of Sudan to put an end to these grave violations of women’s human rights.”

The cases:

On 25 June 2015, the Public Order Police arrested twelve female students between 17 and 23 years old, originally from the war-torn Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan State. They were taken by Police in front of the Evangelical Baptist Church in Khartoum North, where they had attended a ceremony, and were brought to a local police station in Khartoum North. At the time of their arrest, some were wearing trousers and others skirts. It was reported that the Police subjected the students to degrading treatment and humiliating verbal abuse during their detention.

Two of the students were released about four hours after their arrest.  The ten others were released on bail on 27 June 2015 but charged with “indecent dressing” under Article 152 of Sudan’s 1991 Criminal Act which gives the Police extensive powers to arrest any person under that ground. The punishment, if they were to be found guilty, would be 40 lashes, or a fine, or both. In practice the law has been reported to be used exclusively against women.

These 10 women were taken to court on 28 June 2015 where the charges against them were confirmed and court dates set. One student, Fardos Al Toum, 19, appeared in court on 6 July 2015, wearing another dress deemed indecent by the judge who, disregarding any due process, immediately sentenced her to a fine of 500 Sudanese pounds ($83) or a month in prison. Her fine was paid by human rights defenders and she will appear in court again in relation to the original charge.

While cases against eight of the ten female Christian students charged with ‘indecent dressing’ under Article 152 of the 1991 Penal Code of Sudan have concluded with either a not guilty verdict or a fine being imposed, other two girls have been sentenced to flogging and/or heavy fines.

On 16 August, Ferdous Al Toum was sentenced to be flogged 20 lashes and a fine of 500 Sudanese pounds (SDG). On 14 July Rehab Omer Kakoum was sentenced to a fine of 500 SDG. Both girls have filed appeals, but no date has yet been given for the appeal trials.

Three other girls were convicted on 12 August and sentenced to pay a fine of 50 Sudanese pounds (SDG) each. The other five were declared innocent and set free on 12 and 16 August.

The experts expressed serious concerns at the physical and psychological integrity of Ferdous Al Toum and Rehab Omer, with regard to the alleged sentence of flogging and heavy fines.

(*) The experts: Ms. Eleonora Zielinska, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice; Ms. Dubravka Simonovic, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Mr. Aristide Nononsi, UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan; and Mr. Juan E. Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

The Working Groups, Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. For more information, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Sudan: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/SDIndex.aspx

For further information and media inquiries, please contact Bernadette Arditi (+41 22 917 9159 / barditi@ohchr.org , wgdiscriminationwomen@ohchr.org )

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org

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