October 27, 2020

Sudan scraps apostasy law and alcohol ban for non-Muslims

Sudanese Zakia (R), 23-years-old, who sells alcohol, holds a cup of her brew at her home in Halfaya near Khartoum on June 28, 2008. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Sudanese drinkers have had to secretly make their own alcohol until now

After more than 30 years of Islamist rule, Sudan has outlined wide-reaching reforms including allowing non-Muslims to drink alcohol, and scrapping the apostasy law and public flogging.

“We [will] drop all the laws violating the human rights in Sudan,” Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari said.

A raft of new laws were passed last week but this is the first public explanation of their contents.

Sudan has also banned female genital mutilation (FGM).

Under the new laws, women no longer need permission from a male relative to travel with their children.

The reforms come after long-time ruler Omar al-Bashir was ousted last year following massive street protests.

The current government is an uneasy mixture of those groups which ousted Mr Bashir and his former allies in the military, who ultimately staged a coup against him.

What is the new law on alcohol?

Non-Muslims are now allowed to consume alcohol in private, however the ban on Muslim drinking remains, Mr Abdulbari told state TV.

Non-Muslims could still be punished if they are caught drinking with Muslims, the Sudan Tribune reports him as saying.

He explained that the government was trying to safeguard the rights of the country’s non-Muslims, who constitute an estimated 3% of the population.

They are now allowed to drink, import and sell alcohol.

“We are keen to demolish any kind of discrimination that was enacted by the old regime and to move toward equality of citizenship and a democratic transformation,” he said.

The laws were initially approved in April but the BBC’s Mohamed Osman in Khartoum says they have only now taken effect.

What about the other changes?

Until now, anyone convicted of renouncing Islam, or apostasy, could face the death penalty.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Women’s groups have been campaigning for an easing of various Sudanese laws

The best known case was of Meriam Yehya Ibrahim Ishag, a pregnant woman who was sentenced to be hanged after she married a Christian man in 2014.

She managed to flee the country but the apostasy law – targeting those deemed to have abandoned Islam – has remained on the statute books until now.

The declaration that someone was an apostate was “a threat to the security and safety of society,” Mr Abdulbari said.

Under Mr Bashir, the morality police would often carry out public flogging for various misdemeanours but Mr Abdulbari said this punishment had now been abolished.

The latest changes come after a restrictive public order law that controlled how women acted and dressed in public was repealed in November.

The imposition of strict Islamist laws in the 1980s was a key factor in the long-running civil war which eventually led to independence for South Sudan, where the majority of people are Christian or follow traditional religions.