In the bad old days of apartheid in South Africa the police used to spy through bedroom curtains, poke flash lights into parked cars and even go into bedrooms and smell the sheets for signs of inter-racial sex. I know it sounds incredible, but it happened.
The latest events in Sudan are strongly reminiscent of these amazing police actions in the apartheid state. Imagine, the police go around to parties and into restaurants looking for women who are wearing “inappropriate” clothing. As if, as in the South African case, there were no real crimes to prevent, real problems of public order to solve. Housebreaking and burglary, kidnapping, violence, and rape were common in apartheid South Africa, and blacks were the prime victims.
While these kinds of crime went on the police were tied up prying into people's sex lives, and patrolling beaches to make sure that no woman showed her breasts there, and that no people were on the “wrong” beaches – because, incredibly, there were beaches reserved for whites, beaches reserved for blacks, Indian South Africans and South Africans of “mixed” race, or, as they are called here, “coloureds.” So the police had to patrol the beaches, not to prevent people being robbed, but to prevent people of the wrong colour being there.
Lubna al-Hussein, a former United Nations worker in Sudan, has been fined 500 Sudanese pounds for “wearing pants deemed too tight and a blouse considered too sheer,” according to a report from CNN today.
In addition, the judge would not allow her defence lawyer to call any defence witnesses, not to make a defence case. Sounds familiar again. In South Africa people used to be thrown into prison on the flimsiest of excuses and were not allowed any judicial review.
Lubna al-Hussein, a journalist, is lucky, however, as she could have been given a sentence of 40 lashes, according to the law of the land.
Amnesty International's deputy director of it's Africa program, Tawanda Hondora said "The manner in which this law has been used against women is unacceptable, and the penalty called for by the law – up to 40 lashes – abhorrent."
"No return to the dark ages," was the sign carried by a protester outside the court where Lubna al-Hussein appeared. Could that be wishful thinking?