Khartoum, Asharq Al-Awsat- The Sudanese authorities released journalist Lubna Ahmed Hussein yesterday from the Omdurman Women’s Prison after the Sudanese Journalist Union paid the fine that was issued by the Khartoum courts. Lubna Hussein was arrested in a restaurant in Khartoum for wearing trousers; she was later convicted of “indecency.”
Sudan was split between those who support the public-order laws used by the courts in their ruling, believing that these play an important role in maintaining law and order in the street, and those who oppose these laws, believing them to be discriminatory against women, and in violation of the Sudanese constitution.
The head of the Sudanese Journalist Union, Mohi-din Tetawi informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the Union had paid Hussein’s fine in order to secure her release. He also said he had visited the prison on Wednesday and personally taken part in her release. Tetawi revealed that Lubna Hussein “came out beaming with joy and thanked the Union for its efforts to secure her release” adding “Lubna is now free.”
In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, Lubna Hussein revealed that she had not wanted the Sudanese Journalist Union to pay her fine and secure her release. She said “I thank him [Tetawi] for his visit but not for paying the fine.”
The court issued a fine of 500 Sudanese pounds or $260 after Lubna Hussein was convicted for being indecently dressed, with a stipulation that if the fine was not paid, Lubna Hussein would serve one month in prison. Hussein refused to pay the fine saying she would prefer to remain in prison.
The head of the Sudanese Journalist Union revealed the process behind Lubna Hussein’s release to Asharq Al-Awsat. Tetawi said that on Tuesday morning, the Sudanese Union of Journalists had asked the courts whether it would be possible for the Union to pay the fine on Hussein’s behalf, thereby securing her immediate release. He revealed that the presiding judge informed the Union that this was possible and that “therefore the Sudanese Union of Journalists paid the fine in the presence of the presiding judge, who issued Lubna’s release to the director of Omdurman prison.”
Tetawi added “We went to the prison and gave the [release] form to the director of the prison, who implemented this, and brought Lubna to use. We escorted her outside of the prison, where she thanked us and she was very happy.”
Tetawi went on to say “A journalist should not be imprisoned under any circumstances.”
In a telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat following her release from prison, Lubna Hussein revealed that the director of the prison had met with her, and informed her that the Sudanese Journalist Union had paid her fine, and that the presiding judge had ordered her release. She said “Outside, I found a group of journalists who were not allowed to visit [me], however the Journalist Union was allowed to do so.”
Lubna attempted to refuse to allow the Sudanese Journalist Union to pay her fine, saying “I thank the Union for its visit, but I do not thank Tetawi for paying my fine because in prison there are women are far more deserving of this than me.”
Lubna informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “In prison, there is a woman, who has a two-week old baby, and she is more deserving of having her fine paid [then I am].” Hussein also revealed that she got to know a Christian female prisoner who was a student at one of the Sudanese universities, and who was serving a three month sentence under the public-order laws.
Lubna Hussein also told Asharq Al-Awsat that she wanted to serve the rest of her sentence in order to understand the true story of what takes place inside prison, but that she was released after only spending only one night behind bars.
Lubna Hussein revealed that at 2 AM on her first night in prison, prison officers came to her cell and escorted her to the prison courtyard where they questioned her about an interview that she had given to a satellite television channel from inside prison. They also asked her to hand over the cell phone which she used to conduct this interview. She told Asharq Al-Awsat that “I told them that the cell phone came from your side, and that the interview took place because technology has evolved and this could happen in any place.”
France has praised “the courageous battle” fought by the Sudanese journalist for women’s rights in Sudan.
French Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Christine Fages told reporters that “France deeply regrets the decision taken by the Khartoum courts, which has accused her [Lubna Hussein] of indecency.”
This week, Amnesty International also called for the Sudanese authorities to repeal Article 152 [Obscene and Indecent Acts], and drop the charges against Lubna Hussein. A statement released by Amnesty International with regards to Article 152 read “‘The manner in which this law has been used against women is unacceptable, and the penalty called for by the law – up to 40 lashes – abhorrent. The law is crafted in a way that makes it impossible to know what is decent or indecent. In practice, women are routinely arrested, detained, tried and then, on conviction, flogged simply because a police officer disapproves of their clothing.”