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Sudan abolishes strict Islamic legislation

July 13 - 2020 KHARTOUM (UPDATED)
The Ministry of Justice in Khartoum (Rebecca Hamilton / Pulitzer Center)
The Ministry of Justice in Khartoum (Rebecca Hamilton / Pulitzer Center)

Sudan abolishes legislation that made apostacy punishable by death and allowed the Public Order police to publicly flog people. Non-Muslims will be permitted to drink, import and sell alcohol, following the passing of a 2020 bill regarding reform of the legal system.

Under the Islamist rule of ousted President Omar Al Bashir, apostacy laws were used to target Muslims denouncing their belief, or marrying a non-Muslim.

The new laws will also allow non-Muslims, an estimated 3 per cent minority in Sudan, to drink, import and sell alcohol. Muslims can reportedly still be punished if they are caught drinking alcohol. Drinking alcohol was strictly forbidden in Sudan since September 1983, when President Jaafar Nimeiri imposed the Islamic law (Sharia) in the country.

The Ministry of Justice reported in a press statement on Friday that Lt Gen Abdelfattah El Burhan, Chairman of Sudan’s Sovereign Council, signed new laws and amendments to other laws, in a step towards the implementation of the 2019 Constitutional Charter.

The 2020 bill regarding reform of the legal and justice system was passed. The second law the chairman signed is the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms Act of 2020 that stipulates reforms concerning human rights and freedoms by abolishing or amending articles in a number of laws, including articles degrading the dignity of women, such as female genital mutilation (FGM) or the official permission women need from their husbands to travel with their children outside Sudan. 

El Burhan signed amendments to Sudan's Penal Code and the Anti-Cyber Crime Act of 2020 as well.

The Ministry of Justice stated that these steps are considered essential to restore justice in Sudan, and to meet international judicial standards.

More reforms needed

In February, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Khartoum to accelerate legal and institutional reform and visible progress on domestic justice initiatives.

The international human rights watchdog praised the transitional government for making important progress on rights reforms and accountability, including abolishment of the criminal charge of apostacy and the public order laws in November last year, as well as the decision to criminalise FGM, and the approval of draft laws establishing commissions to work on human rights and transitional justice reforms. Yet, HRW also heard concerns from civil society groups that there had not been adequate consultation with these groups on the new laws.

The Constitutional Declaration/Charter was signed on August 4 last year by the then ruling Military Council and the opposition Forces for Freedom and Change. The international organisation IDEA prepared a translation of the text.

The text was ratified on August 17, after which the Sovereign Council, replacing the function of president, and the Council of Ministers were formed.


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