Sudanese journalist Lubna al-Hussein has sent out 500 invitations to media outlets and human rights groups to attend her trial at the Khartoum Criminal Court on charges of “sensational dressing up” - for wearing trousers. The punishment, under article #152 of Sudanese Criminal Law, is 40 flogs in public, and Hussein hopes the publicity around her plight will add weight to the case for changing the law.
“If the court’s decision is that I be flogged, I want this flogging in public,” she told the BBC.
Hussein is not alone. Twelve other women were arrested with her in a restaurant in Khartoum on the 3rd of July. Like thousands of Sudanese women arrested under the same offence each year, ten of the group chose to plead guilty to the charges and receive the punishment of ten lashes and a fine.
Hussein resigned from her job as press officer with the United Nations to take the case to trial, forgoing the immunity from prosecution afforded to an employee of the UN. She also refused a presidential pardon and a plea deal not to wear trousers again.
She has taken a brave personal stance against the law from within and she has called upon the outside world to bear witness. Watching her battle from the outside can make one feel powerless to help, but it's vital that we on the outside continue to lend our voices, and our eyes, to her struggle.
Few can forget the scenes in June this year from Iran, where thousands of people took to the streets in a protest against the official election results. Or Burma in 2007, where Buddhist monks broke with tradition and took a political stand against the ruling military junta. Authoritarian regimes don’t like to be criticised or embarrassed in the international spotlight. In both situations, journalists, bloggers and civilians used the internet as a tool to draw their plight to the attention of the outside world.
Whatever more we can do as individuals, there is a collective responsibility not to look away - and dare the Sudanese government, as Lubna al-Hussein has done, to pursue their course with the weight of the outside world's opinion on them.