NABA MOHIEDDIN AND MAX BEARAK
KHARTOUM, Sudan — A Sudanese court convicted six artists of “public nuisance” and sentenced them to two months in jail on Thursday for mixing with members of the opposite sex, bringing the total number charged to 11 after a similar ruling last week.
The group was prosecuted after holding a mixed-gender theater workshop last month, under laws often abused by the autocratic regime of Omar Hassan al-Bashir, which was deposed in a popular uprising last year. They were also fined around $90 each.
Among those sentenced to jail was Hajooj Kuka, 44, who just this year was inducted as a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awards the Oscars.
The award-winning filmmaker was co-producing a play that used experimental dance to reenact the break up of a sit-in protest by security forces last June, which killed more than 100 and allegedly involved the rapes of dozens of women. Leaders of the security forces present that day have fervently denied the allegations.
“The workshop was about body rhythm. The [security forces’] issue was women’s participation,” said Kuka in a voice message smuggled out of prison using a friend’s phone after he was prevented from receiving visitors.
“There was a time, during the revolution, where these rules were not enforced, but now they are back because they were never changed.”
Bashir’s infamous “public order” laws, which restricted the mixing of genders and dictated women’s dress, were a major factor in drawing young Sudanese into the streets to call for his ouster in early 2019.
The members of the artists’ collective, known as Civic Lab, were all actively involved in the protests.
“The case underscores how police, prosecutors, and judges are still operating as they did under former president Omar al-Bashir, using vague provisions that give wide discretionary powers for authorities to restrict basic rights and freedoms,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement. “. . . Sudan’s transitional government has been slow on reform, and these artists are paying the price.”
The rights organization said that a female member of the group had been assaulted by police officers and was not allowed to file a complaint against them.
Since Bashir was deposed, a transitional government has taken some steps to loosen social restrictions and roll back some hard-line laws adopted from the Islamic sharia code.
In July, female genital mutilation was criminalized, non-Muslims were permitted to consume alcohol and a ban on conversion from Islam to other religions was lifted. Earlier this month, the government signed a peace deal with an armed group in which it promised to separate religion and the state.
Most of Sudan is Muslim, but a large Christian minority in its southern regions has chafed against the imposition of Islamic law.
For some who risked their lives against Bashir’s security forces last year, the artists’ arrests is evidence that there is still a long way to go before the type of crackdown the former ruler was known for are a thing of the past.
“It is a betrayal of the revolution’s gains,” said Nadine Elsir, an activist and protest leader. “As women and men, we marched against the former regime, pursuing freedom, peace and equity, and to end all of humiliating laws.”
(Washington Post’s Max Bearak reported from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)