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Nigerian football star sentenced to 40 lashes in Sudan

November 13, 2009 10:03 IST

Stephen WorguA Nigerian football star on Thursday said he has been sentenced to 40 lashes in Sudan after being wrongly convicted of drunk driving in Khartoum.

Stephen Worgu, who signed a reported multi-million dollar contact with Omdurman club Al Merreikh last year, said he is innocent and determined to win an appeal against the sentence.

"I am not guilty of this crime...I can't imagine myself being flogged," he told reporters in his Khartoum flat.

It was the latest in a series of high profile cases where Sudan's brand of Islamic law has come under the spotlight. A British teacher was jailed after letting her class name a teddy bear Mohammad in 2007 and a Sudanese journalist was imprisoned in September after being convicted of indecency for wearing trousers. Both women had faced a maximum sentence of flogging.

Drinking alcohol is banned under the sharia law enforced in Muslim north Sudan. Men found guilty are routinely beaten in public outside court rooms, while women are generally punished in private.

Worgu, 20, said he was stopped by police driving home late from dinner at a friend's house in August.

He said he was taken to a police station and briefly questioned, then later told to attend court this week.

"I was trying to make myself heard to the judge ... saying he (the policeman) didn't make any medical test. He didn't find me with any drink."


He said the officers told the court they had smelled the home-brewed spirit aragi on his breath, but insisted he had never heard of the drink. "My lawyer was saying, 'This guy, he makes good money. How can he drink aragi?' Aragi is sold for one pound."

The forward said he had initially found it hard to adjust to Sudan and still occasionally feels isolated.

"It's really not easy...It is difficult for me to go out because I try to avoid those crazy supporters of Al Hilal (Al Merreikh's bitter Khartoum rivals). So I stay at home and I am not a fan of staying at home."

Worgu said he still does not regret coming to Sudan, and had ambitions to move on to the British Premiership or another European league. He said he is a Christian, but understood he has to obey north Sudan's Islamic laws.

"I don't have any bad feelings about it. All my friends have been calling me. The publicity around the whole thing could be a blessing in disguise by raising my profile with other clubs," he told Reuters.

Worgu said he was fined in Khartoum East court on Tuesday but the flogging was delayed pending his appeal.

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