By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, July 28, 2009 2:43 PM
NAIROBI, July 28 -- A Sudanese woman who works for a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, is bracing to be flogged 40 times Wednesday as punishment under Islamic law for wearing "clothing causing harassment to the public sentiments."
In an e-mail, Lubna Ahmed Hussein said she is being charged for violating Article 152 of Sudan's criminal code, basically by wearing pants. She has invited local and foreign journalists to view her flogging if she is convicted.
Reached on her cellphone Tuesday as she was driving home in traffic, Hussein sounded calm.
"Maybe I'll be punished -- the judge will decide," she said. "I'm not afraid."
Islamic law governs most of the vast East African nation, although southern Sudan, where many people practice Christianity and indigenous religions, is exempt under the terms of a 2005 peace deal that ended a long north-south civil war.
Hussein and 13 other women, including some southerners, were at a Khartoum cafe July 3 when police ordered them to a police station, according to Agence-France Presse news agency. The women were all wearing pants. Two days later, 10 of the women were called back to the station and lashed 10 times each, the agency said.
Women are occasionally punished for offenses to Islamic law in the capital, although police just as often look the other way at increasing numbers of young women wearing Western clothes at trendy outdoor cafes such as O-Zone, where aid workers and the children of the ruling elite sip cappuccinos under a fine mist spray.
"Generally it depends on the police on duty," said Alfred Taban, editor of the Khartoum Monitor newspaper. "Many of them are really tolerant. But there are some fundamentalists among them."
Taban noted that President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's political coalition includes conservatives who prefer strict adherence to Islamic law.
Almost two years ago, Bashir's government sentenced a British teacher to 15 days in jail for letting her 7-year-old students name a teddy bear Muhammad, the name of Islam's prophet but also one of the most common names in the Muslim world. Angry mobs called for the teacher to be sentenced to death, but she was eventually pardoned after an outpouring of international outrage.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for Bashir's ruling National Congress Party said the judge in Hussein's case has some discretion.
"If she is convicted, yes, flogging is a possible punishment," said the spokesman, Rabie Atti. "Lubna will be subject to whatever the court finds."