While it’s unclear what the Sudanese woman’s supposed offense was — it could have been adultery, drinking alcohol, theft, or even wearing pants — but her punishment for breaking some aspect of northern Sudan’s sharia law was fifty-three lashes.
In a graphic video that sped across the internet, the woman is ordered to kneel and is lashed as she screams in pain, begs the policemen to stop, and at one point tries to grab the whip of one policeman. At first, the police treat the flogging as an inconvenience to themselves, saying (according to subtitles on the video) that they want to get done so they can go. As they beat the woman she wails in agony, crawling away from them on her knees crying, “Enough, enough!” and moaning for her mother. At one point in the video, a policeman notices the camera and laughingly half-covers his face, before joining in whipping the sobbing woman. (The video is very graphic, and may only be viewed by Youtube users over 18. Please view it with caution — it’s not appropriate for children, and trigger warnings apply.)
When the video first surfaced, Sudanese government officials claimed it was a piece of propaganda intended to damage Sudan’s image. In the face of growing condemnation domestically and internationally, the judiciary announced it would inquire into whether the woman’s conviction and punishment had been carried out properly.
Despite promises of official inquiry, though, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for justice for the woman or discipline for the laughing policemen. BBC News quotes President Omar al-Bashir saying, chillingly, “If she is lashed according to sharia law, there is no investigation. Why are some people ashamed? This is sharia.” Many Muslims, like Lubna Hussein, who I describe below, forcefully object to the idea that this brutal punishment is compatible with Islam — but unfortunately, the president is the one in charge.
Dozens of Women Arrested As They Protest Flogging
Reuters reports that soon after the video was released, around fifty women converged on the justice ministry holding banners and shouting “Humiliating your women is humiliating all your people!” Dozens were arrested as they sat in front of the ministry. Security also assaulted a journalist from BBC and confiscated his equipment.
After being arrested, the protesters were taken to a police station and their lawyers were not allowed in. According to Human Rights Watch, they have now been released but many have been charged with disturbing the peace and being public nuisances.
Flogging “Almost A Daily Punishment”
In Sudan, floggings are a common punishment — according to Reuters, they are administered almost daily.
This is only the latest incident of high-profile floggings under Sudan’s strict code of conduct. Last summer public order police raided a Khartoum cafe and arrested 13 women for the “public indecency” of wearing trousers. Ten of the women were publicly flogged and fined 250 Sudanese pounds, about $120, after quick summary trials.
One, journalist Lubna Hussein, fought the charges. During her trial, police attacked dozens of women protesting outside the courthouse. After being convicted, she chose to go to jail for a time rather than pay a fine, as a way of protesting the laws. (The two other women also challenged the charges in court, but I haven’t discovered the outcome of their trials.)
In August 2010, nineteen young Muslim men were flogged after being convicted of wearing women’s clothing and make-up.
Worse To Come?
There are signs that the situation might soon become even more brutal. As the pending referendum on independence for southern Sudan approaches, the President is threatening to tighten sharia law in the North.
BBC News quotes President Omar al-Bashir saying “If south Sudan secedes, we will change the constitution…Sharia and Islam will be the main source for the constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official language.”
If the president’s version of sharia is actually implemented after the referendum, it could mean even more restrictions and harsher punishments for all who are living in northern Sudan. As the referendum draws near and it seems all but inevitable that the south will declare its independence, the Sudanese people are bracing for a potential conflagration — and now, the possibility that their lives will be more tightly controlled than ever.
The photo of a bullwhip was found on Wikimedia Commons. It was taken by Cgoodwin, and reused under Creative Commons Attribution License.
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