Woman sentenced to 40 lashes flouts travel ban to promote book | World| Breaking news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 24.11.2009
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Woman sentenced to 40 lashes flouts travel ban to promote book

Sudanese journalist Lubna Hussein faced a whipping after she was convicted under indecency laws for wearing trousers. But she was well-received in Paris, where a book about her story is to be released.

Sudanese journalist Lubna Hussein, wearing earings and a jacket, speaks during a press conference in Paris

The Sudanese judges would not have approved of how Lubna Hussein was dressed

A Sudanese woman who challenged authorities after being sentenced to 40 lashes for wearing trousers has defied a travel ban to visit France.

Lubna Hussein has vowed to continue her fight from outside Sudan to stop women from being prosecuted for what they wear. She defied the ban on international travel by leaving Sudan dressed from head to toe in an Islamic niqab.

Dressed in trousers and a jacket, she appeared in a press conference at the French Foreign Ministry on Monday.

Praise from foreign minister

Welcoming Hussein to Paris, the French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said she had displayed "the courage to be steadfast in her revolt so that women will not be arrested and flogged.

She was arrested at a restaurant in July along with 12 other women on "indecency" charges and, although she was a United Nations employee and could have claimed immunity from charges, she refused to do so and challenged the law. The case led to street protests on her behalf.

Marchers outside the Khartoum court carrying signs written in Arabic callling for the case to be a test case for all women

Sudanese activists marched in protest at Hussein's treatment earlier this year

"This was a very good struggle and very important one for Arab women, for African women," said Kouchner, congratulating Hussein for her "simple heroism." He said that in 2008, police enforcing Sudan’s law on indecent clothing had arrested 43,000 women in the Khartoum region.

Spared from lashes

Hussein was finally spared the whipping, but spent a day in jail after refusing to pay a fine.

She was in France to promote her book, Forty Lashes for a Pair of Trousers. The account has been printed in French and will be translated into languages including English, Arabic and Swahili.

It gives details of her arrest for wearing indecent clothing - a pair of green slacks. The book also outlines Hussein's upbringing in Sudan, where Sharia law was introduced in 1983, and details of her career as a journalist.

Supporters of the former reporter say she is the first woman to stand up to such treatment.

Swipe at case judges

A schoolgirl adjusts her veil after class as she leaves a college north of Paris, surrounded by other students

The right of Muslim women to wear what they want is being debated in France

Hussein resigned from her job at the UN, thereby waiving any legal immunity, so that she could continue with the case and challenge the law.

At her meeting with Kouchner, Hussein took a swipe at judges who heard her case.

She said, "I told them, 'Show me the text that justifies this repression of women based on their clothing.' But no one was able to, because such a text does not exist. It only exists in their heads."

The authorities changed her punishment from 40 lashes to a fine of 150 euros, but Hussein refused to pay. She said that she preferred to go to jail.

Others paid fine

Her release in September came after the Sudanese journalists' union said it had paid the fine on her behalf.

Hussein said that the group that had paid was linked to the government, which wanted to resolve the case quietly. She now plans to pursue her campaign to challenge the conviction as far as the African Court of Justice.

Debate in France

The Paris welcome came as France debates measures to prohibit women from wearing the full Islamic veil, which President Nicholas Sarkozy calls a symbol of female subservience.

Sarkozy has backed Hussein, saying that France "will continue to work with her and to help her in her struggle, which is the struggle of all women".

She joined residents protesting in a town to the east of Paris after a woman was badly burned when her husband poured petrol over her. Hussein has been invited to support French women's rights group "Ni Putes Ni Soumises" which campaigns against the oppression of French-Arab women.

Sihem Habchi, president of the group, said: "We appeal to all those suffering in silence to speak out."

Editor: Michael Lawton

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