A young Catholic woman has discovered that many Public Order Police in Muslim-majority Sudan believe they have a mandate to sexually harass those they deem ‘inappropriately dressed,’ simply due to the fact that they don’t dress according to strict Islamic custom.
Nyankiir Kual Mayen, a 24-year-old university student in Al Qadarif in eastern Sudan, filed a complaint with police two days after a Public Order Police officer held and groped her, but there is no indication police have taken any action, sources said.
Mayen, a South Sudanese national studying at Al Qadarif University, was on her way to a church service when she noticed a Public Order Police officer following her in his vehicle. Identified only as Akasha, the officer stopped her as she reached the town’s main market area, she said. Women not dressed according to strict Islamic customs in Sudan are easily identifiable as non-Muslims. The officer grabbed her and groped her breast, Mayen said.
He ordered her to come with him to the police station, but she insisted that it was illegal to arrest women on the street without a warrant, Mayen said. Annoyed, the officer said he would arrest her for indecent dressing, she said.
One of nearly a dozen witnesses said the officer told her he was from the Public Order Police with a mandate to arrest and harass women who were indecently dressed. The business administration student, who is a choir director at her church, was wearing a long skirt and blouse, witnesses said.
“Nyankiir was wearing decent clothing,” a witness identified only as Dalia said.
The officer left, and Mayen was not charged. She filed the complaint against him late September.
The officer in charge of investigating Mayen’s complaint, identified only as Adri, declined to comment when contacted by Morning Star News.
Several witnesses confirmed the assault to Morning Star News.
“This incident is true my brothers and sisters,” Mayen said.
The incident drew widespread reaction on social media, with many calling for justice to be administered to the officer.
Rights activists say Sudan Public Order Police routinely violate human rights, including religious freedom, often arresting women and forcing them to pay fines and bribes to secure their release.
Following the secession of South Sudan in 2011, Sudan President Omar al-Bashir vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language. Church leaders said Sudanese authorities have demolished or confiscated churches and limited Christian literature on the pretext that most Christians have left the country following South Sudan’s secession.
The Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced in April 2013 that no new licenses would be granted for building new churches in Sudan, citing a decrease in the South Sudanese population.
Sudan since 2012 has expelled foreign Christians and bulldozed church buildings on the pretext that they belonged to South Sudanese. Besides raiding Christian bookstores and arresting Christians, authorities threatened to kill South Sudanese Christians who do not leave or cooperate with them in their effort to find other Christians.
Sudan fought a civil war with the south Sudanese from 1983 to 2005, and in June 2011, shortly before the secession of South Sudan the following month, the government began fighting a rebel group in the Nuba Mountains that has its roots in South Sudan.
Due to its treatment of Christians and other human rights violations, Sudan has been designated a Country of Particular Concern by the U.S. State Department since 1999.
Sudan ranked fourth on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians face most persecution.