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News and Press ReleasesSudanese authorities must uphold right to fair trials after surge in arrests of women for sale of a

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Sudanese authorities must uphold right to fair trials after surge in arrests of women for sale of a

06-27-2014, 10:14 PM
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Sudanese authorities must uphold right to fair trials after surge in arrests of women for sale of a

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    The African Centre for Justice and Peace
    Studies
    Sudanese authorities must uphold right to fair trials after surge in arrests of women for sale of alcohol in national capital
    (27 June 2014) The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) calls on the government of Sudan to uphold the right to a fair trial before the criminal courts after documenting a surge in the number of arrests of women by the public order police for the sale of alcohol in the national capital. Women arrested by the public order police are often prosecuted without legal representation or being informed of their appeal rights.

    According to court documents accessed by ACJPS, at least 900 women have been convicted for the sale of alcohol in Khartoum, Khartoum Bahri, and Omdurman since May 2014. Activist sources suggest that courts in the three cities of the national capital usually hear less than seventy alcohol related offences each month. It is thought that the spike in arrests could be linked to the anticipated onset of Ramadan, the month of fasting in Islam that starts this month, and on-going rhetoric from Sudanese officials concerning the Islamic nature of the Sudanese state. Although reliable statistics are not available, women convicted of these offences are typically from economically marginalised backgrounds and also hail from Sudan’s ethnic and religious minority groups.

    Recent cases also suggest the courts are imposing substantially increased penalties for the sale of alcohol, an act prohibited under Sharia (Islamic law) law provisions of Sudan’s 1991 penal code. In three cases documented by ACJPS in late May and early June, Judge Yassir Osman Mohamed Yousef of Al Haj Yousef Criminal Court, Khartoum Bahri, sentenced three women to three to four months in prison and fines amounting to around $1,750 for the sale of alcohol. Until recently, the same judge had reportedly handed down fines of 250 Sudanese pounds (approximately $44) for the same offence. The prison terms will be extended if the women are unable to pay the fines.

    Contrary to international standards on fair trials, the three women were sentenced to imprisonment without legal representation and their convictions rested solely on the testimony of the arresting public order police officers. They were convicted under article 79 (dealing in alcohol) of the 1991 Penal Code that provides for a penalty of up to one year of imprisonment or a fine. Judges have the discretion to set the amount of fine and duration of imprisonment.

    Ms. Amani Mail Abok, (f), mother of six children and a member of the Dinka ethnic group. Her husband is unemployed. On 28 May the Public Order police of Al Haj Yousef, Khartoum Bahri raided her home and arrested her for the possession of four litres of alcohol. She appeared before the Al Haj Yousef Criminal Court the following day, 29 May. She was sentenced to four months imprisonment in Omdurman Women’s prison to commence immediately, and a fine of 10,000 Sudanese pounds (roughly $1,750). According to the judgment, if she is unable to pay the fine, the prison sentence will be extended by two months.
    Alradeeya Abdullah Kuhah, (f). Ms. Kuhah is married and a member of the Nuba ethnic group resident in Al Haj Yousef, Khartoum Bahri. She was sentenced to four months imprisonment in Omdurman Women’s prison and a fine of 10,000 Sudanese pounds on 9 June. If she is unable to pay the fine, her sentence will be extended by three months.
    Rebecca Tjok, (f). Ms. Tjok is married and a member of the Dinka ethnic group resident in Al Haj Yousef, Khartoum Bahri. She was sentenced to three months imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 Sudanese pounds on 10 June. If she is unable to pay the fine, the prison sentence will be extended by three months.
    ACJPS calls on the Government of Sudan to uphold the right of the accused to receive a fair trial and have adequate legal representation in accordance with international standards. The UN Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems, adopted in 2012, set out that states should ensure that anyone who is arrested, detained, suspected of or charged with a criminal offence punishable by a term of imprisonment is entitled to legal aid at all stages of the criminal justice process. The Guidelines further set out that it is “the responsibility of police, prosecutors and judges to ensure that those who appear before them who cannot afford a lawyer and/or who are vulnerable are provided access to legal aid.”

    These cases underscore a concerning pattern in the application of public order laws against women and girls, particularly from marginalised ethnic groups in Sudan. Although most alcohol sellers in the national capital are thought to be women, both men and women are known to be consumers. The possession and consumption of alcohol is also criminalised, yet there has been no marked increase in arrests of men for these crimes over the same period. The cases also call into question the application of Islamic law in Sudan against non-Muslims. They underscore the need for a constitutional framework that respects ethnic, religious, cultural and other diversities in Sudan and ensures public freedoms and equality before the law, along with equal protection and benefit of the law.

    Background

    A key provision of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, enshrined in the Interim National Constitution (INC) of the same year, was that non-Muslims would not be subjected to Sharia (Islamic law). Article 157 of the INC that envisaged the creation of the now defunct Non-Muslims Rights Special Commission sets out that non-Muslims should not be adversely affected by the application of Sharia law in the national capital.

    Although the interim period expired alongside the secession of South Sudan on 9 January 2012, the INC remains in place owing to delays in the adoption of a permanent national constitution for Sudan. Senior members of the ruling National Congress Party have made a number of public statements since South Sudan’s secession in 2012 asserting that Sudanese law is based on Sharia.

    Sudan’s public order laws also include broad and ill-defined prohibitions of “indecent and immoral acts” such as wearing “indecent and immoral dress” that have been disproportionately applied against women – particularly women living in poverty who also often belong to ethnic and religious minorities. Human rights groups have called for the authorities to repeal certain public order laws, such as those concerning clothing and “offences of honour, reputation and public morality” that are disproportionately applied against women and infringe on the enjoyment of fundamental rights, such as the rights to privacy, family life and non-discrimination.

    Omdurman Women’s prison, where many of the 900 women convicted in the past two months have been imprisoned, is overcrowded. Temporary shelters have reportedly been constructed in the prison grounds to accommodate the new arrivals.

    Contact: Katherine Perks, ACJPS Programme Director, Kampala, on info@acjps.org or +256 775072136
                  

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