By The Barnabas Fund
The abolition of Sudan’s apostasy law, which carried a death penalty for leaving Islam, has finally been enacted. This has caused great rejoicing amongst Sudanese Christians, especially those who are converts from Islam.
The Miscellaneous Amendments Act was passed without objection by the Sovereign Council in April. In a press announcement, Sudanese Minister of Justice Nasr al-Din Abdel Bari said the Act repeals the apostasy law, protects freedoms and also grants previously-forbidden liberties. Other changes include the freedom of women to travel abroad with their children without producing the written consent of their husband or male family member, the criminalisation of female genital mutilation (FGM) and the decriminalisation of alcohol consumption by non-Muslims.
The amendments sweep away long-standing restrictions on freedom introduced under the 30-year regime of former dictator Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted by the Sudanese military in April 2019, after months of popular protests. While apostasy had already been criminalised under Sudan’s previous criminal code, al-Bashir’s regime brought the country’s legal system closer to an ultraconservative interpretation of sharia (Islamic law).
Minister Bari, a Harvard Law School graduate originally from Darfur, was instrumental in the law changes. He added that the amendments will align national law with the Constitutional Declaration of the Transitional Military Council (TMC), which is now governing Sudan, and establish freedoms to ensure the rule of law without discrimination.
Islamists in Sudan have called for the government to be overthrown in an angry backlash against the penal code reforms. Ultra-conservative Islamist cleric Abdel-Hay Youssef, now self-exiled in Turkey, described the reforms as a “war against virtues” and called on the army to step in to “defend the law of God”.
Sudan is one of the few countries in the world where people have been officially executed for apostasy in modern times. In 1985, Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, a 76-year-old moderate Muslim political leader who had opposed the establishment of sharia by the government of President Jaafar al-Nimeiri, was hanged as an apostate for his views.