End floggings, HRW tells Sudan
Nairobi/Khartoum - A human rights watchdog has called on Sudan to end the practice of lashing and refrain from arresting peaceful protesters, after over 44 activists were arrested at a demonstration in Khartoum.
The protesters marched on the ministry of justice on Tuesday to hand in a petition after a video widely circulated on You Tube showed a crying Sudanese woman on her knees being repeatedly lashed by two police officers in Omdurman.
"Sudanese authorities should be following Sudan's own bill of rights, not cracking down on peaceful protesters who were rightly objecting to such inhuman and degrading treatment," said Rona Peligal, Africa director at Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Most of the protesters arrested were women, and now face charges of disturbing peace.
HRW called for a reform of the public order rules and the end of flogging, which it said disproportionately targets women.
"The public order rules in Sudan are overly vague and broad, and are used to control and punish women for innocuous behaviour, such as dancing at private parties or wearing trousers," Peligal said. "The system is inherently discriminatory and violates constitutionally protected freedoms of personal expression."
Sudan's rules on public order caused a stir in mid-2009, when Lubna Hussein - a journalist working with the United Nations - was sentenced to flogging after being arrested for wearing trousers.
Hussein challenged the ruling and brought wide international condemnation down on the Sudanese government.
Sudan's Islamic law is often also applied to Southern Sudanese, many of whom are not Muslim.
This practice was partly responsible for the long north-south civil war, which ended in 2005 with a peace deal that saw Southern Sudan become an autonomous state.
The south is due to vote in a referendum on independence on January 09.