A Sudanese woman says she is prepared to be flogged to defend the right to leave her hair uncovered in defiance of a “Taliban”-like law.
Amira Osman Hamed faces a possible whipping if convicted at a trial which could come on September 19. Under Sudanese law her hair — and that of all women — is supposed to be covered with a “hijab”. But Hamed, 35, refuses to wear one.
Her case has drawn support from civil rights activists and is the latest to highlight Sudan’s series of laws governing morality which took effect after the 1989 Islamist-backed coup by President Omar al-Bashir.
“They want us to be like Taliban women,” Hamed said in an interview with AFP.
She is charged under Article 152 which prohibits “indecent” clothing.
Activists say the vaguely worded law leaves women subject to police harassment and disproportionately targets the poor in an effort to maintain “public order”.
“This public order law changed Sudanese women from victims to criminals,”says Hamed, a divorced computer engineer who runs her own company.
“This law is targeting the dignity of Sudanese people.” Hamed said she was visiting a government office in Jebel Aulia, just outside Khartoum, on August 27 when a policeman aggressively told her to cover her head.
“He said, ‘You are not Sudanese. What is your religion?’” ”I’m Sudanese. I’m Muslim, and I’m not going to cover my head,” Hamed replied.
Her dark hair, tinged golden, is braided tight against her scalp with a flare of curls at the back.
Hamed said she was detained for a few hours, charged, and then bailed.
At her first court appearance on September 1, when the case was delayed until later this month, about 100 women and some men gathered to support her.
Many of the protesting women had their heads uncovered, as did Hamed who says she has “never, ever” worn a hijab.
“There are many (who) wear it because they are afraid, not because they want to wear it,” she said, speaking at her family’s home and dressed in blue jeans which could get her into trouble if she went outside.
Hamed was charged in 2002 for wearing trousers but a lawyer helped her get off with only a fine, rather than a flogging.
Most women do not have the benefit of legal assistance and are too ashamed to tell their families about their arrest under the morality law, leaving them at the mercy of the court and vulnerable to sexual harassment by police, she says.