Sudan Abolishes Apostasy Laws

Photo taken by Esam Idris

Just over the weekend, on July 12, 2020, it was announced that the government of Sudan has taken action to restore human rights and religious freedom for its citizens by eliminating discriminatory alcohol restrictions, abolishing apostasy laws, criminalizing female genital mutilation and cutting, and granting women travel rights. Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari stated of the landmark decisions, “we [will] drop all the laws violating the human rights in Sudan.” This is not the first progressive step taken by the new Sudanese transitional government headed by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok- in 2019, reports USCIRF, the government “informally allowed the Muslim-minority Republican Party to operate openly for the first time, and extended improved representation to what it deems ‘traditional’ Christian communities.”

These fundamental changes by the Sudanese government were made with the ratification of the Miscellaneous Amendments Act, and its most commendable achievement is the abolition of the discriminatory and problematic portion of the nation’s criminal code Article 126 which, according to Library of Congress, states that “any Muslim who declares publicly that he/she has adopted any religion other than Islam commits the crime of apostasy and is punishable with the death penalty.” Like many other nations that have apostasy laws interwoven into their criminal code, the government has sentenced individuals to death for apostasy and then later acquitted the suspects due to domestic and international outcry. In 2014, BBC News reported on the sentencing death of pregnant Sudanese Christian woman Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, who was told by the presiding judge that she had only three days to renounce Christianity and return to Islam if she wished to be acquitted. She was also sentenced to 100 lashes for marrying a Christian man, a ‘crime’ considered adultery by the Sudanese criminal code. After numerous condemnations by international human rights NGOs, Ibrahim was acquitted of her charges and her case was ultimately dropped. The abolition of Sudan’s apostasy laws under the temporary government ensures that no individual ever again has to go through the accusations, harassment, and tribulations that Meriam had gone through though she committed no crime other than being a devout Christian.

Sudan Tribune explains that, among the other critical changes made with this new act is that non-Muslim Sudanese citizens are permitted to drink alcohol and that women have “the right to travel abroad and to take her children with her without needing to produce the consent of the husband, a matter that had been forbidden under the law.” Moreover, the amendment act prohibits public flogging, a major human rights violation and breach of personal privacy. Sudan Tribune further explains:

“Justice Minister said that the amendments aimed to align laws with the Constitutional Declaration governing the transitional period and to establish freedoms and ensure the rule of law without discrimination.”

Jubilee Campaign welcomes the passage of the Miscellaneous Amendments Act as it marks another step towards ensuring complete equality for Sudan’s religious and gender minorities, and we hope to see Sudan’s transitional government continue to make improvements and eradicate any prejudices and injustices against these individuals.