Sudan Democracy First Group
The Framework of the Public Order Laws in Sudan: Tools for Repression and Totalitarian Domination
Sudan’s Public Order Law’s legal framework is composed of a set of legal provisions from the Sudanese Criminal Law Act and the Community Safety Act. It came into effect and was applied for the first time in Khartoum State as the Public Order Act (hereinafter the Act), following the 1989 coup, which brought the National Islamic Front into power. Its name was later changed to Community Safety Act. The Act includes several provisional articles on the general appearance, dress code as well as the individual and social behaviour of citizens. Furthermore, it gives the State the power to act as a “regulator” of the Sudanese people’s behaviours, in a way that is deliberately humiliating, insulting and degrading to their dignity and in violation of their rights.
These legal provisions and their application raise wide controversy on two levels. Firstly, the contents of the Act itself is in contrary to the emphasis of basics personal freedoms, which are embedded within Sudan’s 2005 Constitution and its subsequent amendments. Secondly, the excessive execution of the Act and the methods of its application in most cases result in judicial violations, especially against women, ethnic groups from the marginalized areas, religious sects that do not subscribe to government’s version of Islam and the vulnerable strata of society.
The past few weeks witnessed a steady increase in the frequency of these violations by the police in the application of the Act. In one case, the Community Security Police unannounced, stormed into a private women’s only party and arrested dozens of women on charges of indecent clothing. The women were acquitted and released by the court the following day. Moreover, at the court hearing of the arrested women, the police arrested and charged the female activist Ms Winnie Omar who was present at the hearing in solidarity with the arrested women, with charges of indecent clothing. However, when asked by the judge about the reasons of arrest, the arresting police officer justified that he “did not like the way she was walking”. In another case, the Police arrested Mr Montasir Ibrahim, a Sudanese writer, after beating him in the street under charges of opposition of the authorities and impeding the work of a public servant. These allegations came when Mr Montasir objected to the harsh treatment of Ms Winnie during her arrest. These are only a few examples, which have received wide media coverage because the victims are known activists. Courts and Police statistics shows that more than 40,000 similar cases are recorded per year in the Khartoum State alone. However, a large number of the cases in the Public Order Courts do not receive sufficient media coverage because most of the victims are from the poorest classes or do not have a high profile within the civil and political community.
The government justifies these violations using the Public Order Act which include articles from chapter 15 of the Sudan Criminal Code and the Community Safety Law (formerly known as the Public Order Act). These articles criminalize certain personal behaviours such as indecent clothing, drinking of alcohol, offensive acts and seduction among others. The Public Order Act was initiated by the Sudanese government in the Khartoum State in 1992 and then amended in 1996 before it was applied in all States. The law includes a number of articles and provisions that were specifically formulated in vague language, to give the Police and the courts a free hand in its execution. Moreover, it covers a wide jurisdiction that includes; the organizing of music concerts; the gathering of women and men in in certain places; the use of public transportation; opening of hairdressing shops; conditions of “good conduct” for female workers; the use of loudspeakers; the opening hours of restaurants and shops and other aspects that constitute a flagrant violation of the personal freedoms of individuals and society. The law also gave the Public Order Police (which was established to apply these provisions) the powers of intrusion in private domains to enforce its articles and as such making the police a watchdog of the behaviours of citizens. In 2009, the name of the law was changed to the Community Safety Act and the Public Order Police was changed to the Community Security Police. The promulgation of this law within the framework of the so-called Civilizational Project of the ruling National Congress Party, is a means of reforming and moulding the Sudanese citizens to live in abidance with the strict definitions of Islamic teachings.
The law gives wide discretionary authorities to the Public Order Police in the application of its loose provisions. It allows for the use of deadly force in its implementation, as was the case in the murder of Ms Awadia Agabna, a Sudanese citizen, by the police in 2012, whose family continue to be harassed by the police until today.
Furthermore, Article 152 of the Criminal Code, on indecent clothing, is a good example of the vague definitions and language of the Public Order Law. The article does not set a concise definition of what constitutes “indecent clothing”. Thus, the application of this Article depends on the personal judgment of the arresting police officer. In addition to this, it has led misuse of the law by Public Order Police Officers and aided the spread of bribery and other forms of corruption. There are numerous cases where girls and women who have been arrested from the streets and humiliated, were extorted financially, physically and even sexually assaulted by the police in exchange for their release. This makes this law not only a threat to society because of its provisions, but also because of the wide discretion granted to the Police. These practices turn the Law into a repressive tool to enforce a particular behaviour and image of society.
The most prominent defaults of the Public Order Laws can be summarized in the following points:
- The legislative framework of the law violates many constitutional rights and is fundamentally incompatible with the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the Sudanese Interim Constitution of 2005.
- The Public Order Law articles gives the State the role of the guardian of morality and a watchdog of people’s individual behaviours, while significantly violating their privacy and freedoms.
- The provisions of the Public Order Laws, both in the Criminal Code and in the Community Security Act, have been vaguely worded, giving broad discretionary power to the public order police to interpret the articles of the law according to their personal judgment, allowing for abuse and other violations.
- The application of the Public Order Act is selective and hence allows for class, gender and ethnic discrimination. The laws are applied mostly in the slums and against the most vulnerable groups in the community, while the Public Order Police avoid rich residential neighbourhoods, which are often inhabited by rich people who are related to government.
- The provisions of the Public Order Law are clearly discriminatory against non-Muslims, especially Christian. There are many incidents of Christian girls being arrested by Public Order Police after leaving churches and taken to police stations on charges of indecent clothing. The articles of the law also allow intransigence against Christians in their religious rituals and ceremonies.
- The Public Order Law promote discrimination against women with most of its articles (indecent clothing, women’s hairdressing shops, etc.) focusing on their activities. The application of these articles systematically targets the presence of women in the public sphere in an attempt to limit their mobility and social activities.
- The detainees of the Public Order Law are usually presented to specialized courts which are held urgently on the day following their arrest. The defendants are not allowed to defend themselves or consult lawyers, and in most cases, the sentence is issued and executed immediately. The Public Order Judge is not required to prepare or complete a trial report to ensure that a record of the trial exists for court records and proceedings. Usually, the Judges issues their ruling immediately after hearing the prosecuting witnesses, who are usually the arresting Public Order Police themselves. Furthermore, the defendants are brought to the court without being informed of the charges against them. In almost all these trials, the police officer is the complainant and the witness at the same time. All these points constitute a serious breach of the principles of right and guarantee of a fair trial.
- All articles of the Public Order Laws include the penalty of a fine, which turns the public order courts into a source of revenue for the State. A recent report estimated that the average monthly revenue from the fines of the Public Order Courts are 600,000 SDG in Khartoum State alone. What makes the situation worse, is that up to 10% of the fines collected is allocated to the judge who issued the verdict, which creates a conflict of interest and makes the judge a personal beneficiary of the conviction sentences. The punishments provided in the Public Order Laws include some humiliating ones such as flogging, which are carried out openly in order to humiliate the victims. According to an estimate in 2011, almost two million and six hundred thousand lashes flame the bodies of Sudanese citizens every year as a result of judicial decisions issued by the Public Order Courts. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights issued a resolution in 2000 demanding the Sudanese Government to abolish the punishment of flogging and compensate those affected. However, the Sudanese government ignored the resolution and continued to enforce such punishments. This incident raised questions around the lack of enforcement mechanisms for resolutions issued by regional and international human rights bodies, making them ineffective and without any real impact on the ground. The Sudanese government uses this law as a political tool to appease the radical religious groups and gain their political support. This is evident with the strict application of the law against the Christian communities. Raids and attacks by the Public Order Police increases significantly as Christian holidays, such as Christmas, New Year’s eve and the Easter approach.
- The Sudanese Government also uses the Public Order raids to send political signals, such as the current crackdown that followed the visit of the US Deputy Secretary of State, during which he formally demanded the Sudanese Government to consider changing the Legal provisions that restrict freedoms. Subsequently, the Sudanese Government stepped up the application of these provisions of the Public Order Laws in response to this request.
The framework of the Public Order Laws in Sudan remains one of the most central instruments of repression by the regime. It is used by the Government as a tool to show strength and bully citizens in order to create a continuous state of fear, despair and loss of hope for any prospect of change.