A senior Sudanese politician is calling for an inquiry into reports young women from Sudan's Christian south had been flogged for defying Islamic law by wearing trousers in Khartoum.
Police arrested 13 young women earlier this month, accusing them of wearing indecent clothes in a Khartoum cafe, and later flogged 10 of them, one of the arrested women told journalists.
Lubna Hussein, who works as an information officer for the UN mission in Khartoum, said some of the women detained with her were from southern Sudan, where most of the population is Christian.
Khartoum, along with all of Sudan's Muslim north, operates under Islamic sharia law, but the punishment of residents of the capital originating from the south remains a sensitive issue.
Sudan is supposed to be working to soften the impact of sharia for southerners living in Khartoum under a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of north-south civil war. Sharia law was lifted in the south by the deal.
Yasir Arman, a senior member of the south's dominant Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), told Reuters he was calling for an investigation into the case to see why the southern women were not given greater protection.
"We condemn this in the strongest terms. It is an infringement of the rights of women and youths. I believe Commission for the Rights of Non-Muslims in the National Capital should look into it," he said, referring to a body set up under the 2005 accord.
Arman said hundreds of southern women were also regularly punished for brewing alcohol in Khartoum.
"They are being punished for something that is acceptable in the south. This is one of the paradoxes that is undermining the chances of unity of Sudan."
Southerners have been promised a referendum on whether to split off from northern Sudan in January 2011. The SPLM has repeatedly complained that problems in the roll out of the peace deal have made it difficult for them to make the case for unity.
Lubna Hussein, who is from north Sudan, told Reuters on Tuesday she was still waiting for her case to be heard after the arrest. "The police called me in for questioning again yesterday to ask about the shirt I was wearing at the time. They said it was too short and the material too thin," she said.
In New York, UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe said UN officials in Khartoum had contacted authorities about Hussein to ensure a UN-Sudan agreement on the status of the mission was respected "and that basic human rights are upheld in the context of national laws governing such issues."
UN officials said the United Nations interpreted the agreement to mean that members of the mission were immune from judicial proceedings but that Sudan did not accept that that applied to Sudanese nationals.