Sudan leveled charges of indecency against three more Christian women for wearing trousers and skirts, deemed “immoral” by the state.
The new detainments come even as twelve other women were arrested on similar charges outside El Izba Baptist Church in Khartoum, about a month ago. Four of those Christian women were subsequently found innocent, three were fined, while one of them still awaits trial under article 152 of Sudanese Criminal Code.
Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Mervyn Thomas, said, "While we welcome the fact that four of these women were found innocent, we question how some have been found guilty when they were all dressed similarly and entirely in keeping with the law and Sudanese customs. We are deeply concerned by the arbitrary application of the law and the exploitation of its ambiguity to deliberately target these innocent women. These cases highlight wider concerns regarding the mistreatment of religious and ethnic minorities in Sudan.”
The defense witness for the twelve women, Pastor Felmon Hassan, said that Christianity recommends decent clothing, but does not impose dress codes on men or women, and that clothing worn by people may vary according to church denomination and individual preferences.
Article 152 of Sudan’s 1991 Criminal Act, forbids women of wearing ‘indecent or immoral dress’, and carries a punishment of up to 40 lashes with fine.
One of the accused Fardos Al-Toum was sentenced to 20 lashes, apart from a large fine for her appearance in court, according to Amnesty International. The fine was paid by her supporters and activists. However, her lawyers have lodged an official complaint against the judge presiding over the hearing.
"We urge the authorities to respect the right to freedom of religion or belief, as defined in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Sudan is party, and to review or repeal article 152, since its lack of definition facilitates subjective arrests and random judicial decisions," Thomas said.
Sudan ranked sixth on Open Doors’ 2015 World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face most persecutions.
Due to its previous human rights violations, Sudan is classified as a Country of Particular Concern by US State Department since 1999, while US commission on International Religious Freedom raised concerns over the basic liberties in the country in its 2015 report.