December 19, 2010 (KHARTOUM) – The Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir was unapologetic over a YouTube video showing a woman being flogged by police that sparked outrage both domestically and abroad.
- Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir (AFP)
“These days some people are talking about the girl that was lashed in accordance with a penalty of god’s penalties…..for those who say they are ashamed of this [punishment] they should wash up, pray twice and revert back to Islam,” Bashir told the harvest celebrations at Al-Gadarif state in East Sudan today.
The Sudanese leader stressed that those in disagreement should review their understanding of religion because Islamic Shari’a law “has always stipulated that one must whip, cut, or kill".
Last weekend, a YouTube video surfaced showing an unidentified woman in a voluminous cloak on her knees screaming and pleading in agony and pain with blue-uniformed policemen who took turns whipping her across the head and feet.
The policemen are shown to be laughing as the woman received the punishment and they are heard saying that she is sentenced to 50 lashes.
The video stirred widespread outcry among Sudanese around the world and even some pro-government columnists wrote critically of the incident with some going as far as describing it as a “scandal” that will harm the country.
The deputy police chief Adel Al-Agib, speaking to the Dubai based Al-Arabiya TV last week, said that the timing of releasing the video was ill-intentioned to coincide with the Human Rights day of December 10th and to smear the image of the country.
Following the disclosure, the Sudanese judicial authority released a statement saying that the incident will be investigated.
"The investigation was started immediately after the images of the young woman, being punished under Articles 154 and 155 of the 1991 Sudanese penal code, appeared on the Internet," the judiciary said in a statement.
The statement said the investigation would look into whether the punishment was carried out improperly.
But Sudan’s Bashir appeared to overrule the probe ordered by the country’s judiciary.
“We say [to] our brother the head of the judiciary and our brothers in the police who said that they will investigate this issue. The investigation’s [focus should be] whether this girl was sentenced to lashing [or no?] This is the end of the story. Did the police implement a judicial ruling? The case here is finished” he said.
“[If the girl was sentenced to flogging and the police carried out the verdict] What is the probe for then?” the Sudanese president posed the question.
Floggings carried out under Islamic law are almost a daily punishment in Sudan for crimes ranging from drinking alcohol to adultery.
On Tuesday, Sudanese police arrested dozens of women protesting the laws related to flogging saying it is humiliating to women.
Mariam Al-Mahdi, daughter of former Sudanese prime minister, claimed that Sudanese women receive more than a million lashes annually by public order police. However, she did not say where she got the figures from.
SUDAN WILL TRANSFORM CONSTITUTION TO CONFORM WITH ISLAMIC LAW
Bashir went further to announce that North Sudan will move fully into an Islamic law state after the likely secession of the South in next month’s referendum.
“If god forbids, the South separates [then] the constitution will be amended [and] a lot of things relating to the South will go away,” he said.
“But the opaque talk [about] the Sudanese people I don’t know what…is multi-racial and multi-religious, the [Islamic] Shari’a will be the main source for lawmaking….and Arabic language will the official language of the state as will be stipulated in the upcoming constitution,” Bashir added.
After the two-decade civil war, Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP) and the former southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) agreed in 2005 on an interim constitution valid until July 2011.
The current constitution recognizes the "multi-ethnic," "multi-cultural" and "multi-faith" status of the Sudanese state, and is based on both Shari’a, or Islamic law, and the "consensus" of the population.
It also recognizes Arabic and English as the two official languages of Africa’s largest country, which was formerly under British and Egyptian rule.
Southerners are set to vote in a referendum on January 9 on whether to remain united with the north or break away and form their own country.
The SPLM has frequently emphasized that the abrogation of Islamic Shari’a law is the only hope for the country to stay united. However, the NCP insisted that this matter is a red line that is not open for compromise.
In 1983, the former president Ga’afar Nimeiry announced the implementation of Islamic Shari’a law across the country including the South which helped fuel the Southern rebellion led by SPLM’s late chairman John Garang.
The period of time is well remembered for sentences being publicized on state media such as chopping hands for stealing.
Mahmoud Mohamed Taha who was the founding father of the Republican Brotherhood movement, as a group that possesses progressive interpretation of Islam, was sentenced to death in 1985 by hanging for apostasy. He was a fierce opponent of the policy of Islamic law implementation as instigated by Nimeiry.
The head of the SPLM’s Northern sector Yasir Arman said Bashir’s statements would encourage repression in the north.
"This type of discourse is preparing the ground for a police state. The north, whether alone or with the south, is an extremely diverse place."
Arman said it was the north’s hard-line stance that had pushed southerners towards separation.
"If it [the north] continues like this it will encourage other areas like Darfur, the Nuba mountains and eastern Sudan to walk out as well," he added, referring to areas on the peripheries of northern Sudan.
"It will also result in Sudan having worse relations with the outside world," Arman said.
One political analyst in Khartoum who asked not to be named told Sudan Tribune that he fears the implications of Bashir’s remarks on the country’s international standing particularly with non-Arab and Non-Muslim minorities living in the North such as the Coptic Christians.
“We will be looked at as a country that has total disregard for human rights and rights of minorities. Worst of all the potential external investors will see this as a recipe for more rebellions by other marginalized groups in the country adding to the political instability so they will decide to stay away” he said.
He noted that the Sudanese leader himself is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes and genocide in Darfur.
The political analyst added that influential countries in the region such as Egypt will be displeased to have an Islamic state on their borders.
“The Egyptian government is trying to suppress Islamic groups like the Muslim brotherhood which is trying to install an Islamic government. These groups will now look at Sudan as an example to follow in achieving their aspirations,” he added.
Officials from Egypt and Libya have blamed the imposition of Shari’a law for pushing southerners towards independence.
Western nations fear that Sudan may end up becoming isolated and Islamist after the South splits.
"After the secession of the south, we could see the north radicalize and the creation of a Muslim caliphate," one foreign official said on condition of anonymity to Agence France Presse (AFP) today.
In the 1990’s Sudan housed a number of Islamic militant groups and Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.
Bashir came to power in 1989 in a bloodless coup backed by the leader of the National Islamic Front (NIF) Hassan Al-Turabi. The two men fell out together and he was in an out of jail since 1999. He has been one of the most outspoken opposition figures ever since.