Four Sudanese Christian women found innocent of 'immoral dress'

A strict dress code is applied in Khartoum, with women only permitted to show their face, hands and feet.Reuters

Four Christian women in Sudan arrested after leaving a church service and charged with "immoral dress" have been found innocent.

Three others have been fined and one still awaits trial.

The women were part of a group of Christians from the Nuba Mountains who were arrested on June 25 after leaving a celebration service at the El Izba Baptist Church in the capital, Khartoum. Two were released without charge, while the rest were charged with indecent or immoral dress and released on bail while awaiting court hearings.

All but one of the women have now been tried at the Public Order Court in Khartoum.

Under Article 152 of the Sudanese Criminal Code, the Public Order Police have broad scope to define what constitutes indecent or immoral dress. According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the increase in criminal cases being brought against individual Christians appears to be part of an ongoing campaign of repression against ethnic and religious minorities in the country.

CSW's chief executive 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. 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."