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Women stripped naked by Rumbek police for choice of clothing

December 5, 2013 (RUMBEK) - The police and army have been accused of harrassing young people in South Sudan’s Lakes state for wearing immodest and hip hop style clothing, with some women forcibly stripped naked by police in public.

Many of the victims are South Sudanese who have returned from neighbouring countries, where they have been influenced by the culture around rap music which is popular in many African nations.

The South Sudanese police and members of the national army (SPLA) are accused of tearing off clothes that they do not approve of and cutting people’s hair if they believe it to be too long.

Officials in the Lakes state government have told Sudan Tribune that the abuse and harassment is occurring after the security services received instructions from the caretaker military Governor Maj-Gen Matur Chut Dhuol.

An eyewitness, who requested anonymity, said that on Wednesday they "saw five young men being beaten by the security forces and two women whom their trousers [were] torn [off] in the market and asked to sit down naked." The incident was "sad", they added.

Governor Duol has tried to distance himself from the abuses in an interview on state-owned radio Rumbek FM-98.

"I did not give any order to torn up clothes and beating up one publicly in market."

But Dhuol acknowledged that incident took place.

Instead of following their duties, soilders are "beating any lady [wearing] trousers or short skirts". They were also targeting boys wearing hip hop style jeans, which are often baggy and sit below the waste.

Since Dhoul was appointed in January, replacing his elected predecessor Chol Tong Mayay, his policies have come under scrutiny by human rights groups, local activists and the media.

In April, the former deputy governor, Mabor Achol Kuer, threatened to "crucify" journalists who criticise the government.

The incident has increased political tension within Lakes state, with some describing Dhoul as a "dictator."

Contrary to the governor’s protestation on state radio a police officer told Sudan Tribune that Dhoul was behind the ordered that triggered the police’s harassment of civilians on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The officer, who opposes the order said:

"Ladies and girls have been embarrassed in Rumbek market by organised forces, those dressed with trousers had their trousers torn by police, and left to run naked with full public view.”

The officer, who asked not to be named, added that state is moving towards “anarchy" if such practices continue.

Dhuol is travelling to Juba on Saturday but the reason for his visit is unclear. Benjimin Laat Mathou will be the Acting Caretaker Governor, while Dhuol is away.

(ST)