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Home > fundamentalism / shrinking secular space > Sudan: The New Amendments to the Sudanese Criminal Law – Not even for you, (...)

Sudan: The New Amendments to the Sudanese Criminal Law – Not even for you, Sudanese people

Monday 4 May 2015, by siawi3


Posted on April 11, 2015

by Walaa Salah

In March and April 1985, Sudanese people took the streets revolting against Nimari’s regime, the abolishment of what became known as “ September 1983 laws†, a criminal system based on Sharia, was one of the main demands of the intifada, as a result of these laws hundreds were arbitrary jailed, killed, and tortured. However for the four years of “democratic period†that followed the intifada, the government failed to meet one of the main demands of these masses, and September laws remained untouched.

The 1989 military coup led by Omer Elbashir and engineered by the National Islamic Front, set a deep ground for further setback on the legal framework in the country. In 1991 a new criminal and criminal procedure laws were introduced; during the following years new laws were approved, the common characteristic between them all… they are based on Sharia, a fundamental interpretation of it.

Resistance never stopped, campaigns were launched, and Sudanese and international activists worked tirelessly to reveal the brutality of the criminal and security legal system in the country. The issue of legal reform has been always one of the main demands of the opposition groups and never left the negotiation table with the government.

On 22 February 2015, two months before a controversial election taking place in the country; Elbashir approved new amendments to the country’s 1991 criminal law; it tackles three major areas: bribery and faking currency, apostasy and “insulting religions†, and sexual harassment and rape.

Having said that these amendments have not been published/ printed in full yet, activists and lawyers have struggled to obtain copies, and as many other documents made by the state, it was “leaked†to international actors before the Sudanese people.

These are initial readouts from the amendments in sections related to apostasy and insulting religions as well as the rape and sexual harassment section

Articles on apostasy and insulting religions – a new leap towards a wahabi state

Last year the case of Mariam Yahia, a Sudanese woman who was sentenced by capital punishment for committing apostasy shook the entire world, campaigns were launched inside Sudan and abroad calling for legal reform in Sudan and specifically to abolish article 126 of the criminal act.

Photo: Mariam Yahia and her husband Daniel Wani. Source: IBT

Well, thanks to the determined government to keep its people living under fear from speaking their thoughts out, they have amended both article 126 (apostasy) and article 125 (insulting religions) to be more brutal. The new law does not only continued to criminalize apostasy; it additionally redefined it to include anyone who questions the credibility of Quran, the Sahaba, or the wives the prophet Mohamed. Two sections were added to the article on insulting religions to include any non-Muslim who curse Islam or prophet Mohamed; as well as whoever curses or offend by any mean any of Islamic sahaba collectively, specially the four Caliphs. The punishment for insulting religions have increased from 6 months to five years imprisonment, five years imprisonment have been added to whoever commits apostasy and accepts Istitaba .

This new amendment is not only a tornado targeting the right of non-Muslims and renouncers; it also targets all Muslims with different ideological backgrounds that contradict the government’s interpretation of Islam. Sofi Muslims, Shi’a, Islamic reformists, activists who challenges political Islam and many other groups could be at risk of prosecution. It actually targets the basic right on freedom of expression and thoughts.

Rape and Sexual Harassment definition, no victory after all:

It seems like finally the problematic article 149 has been amended! The 1991 criminal law in its old edition mixed between rape and adultery, which meant that if a rape victim failed to prove her case she then can be punished for committing zina (100 lashes for unmarried and death by stoning for the married). The new amendment further expanded the definition of rape and separated it from zina.

Human rights organizations fought for long time for this victory, and the new amendment was received with salute. However doubts are rising around the new amendments in terms of achieving justice to survivors of rape.

Photo: SCOs’ alliance against article 149’s logo

Hikma Yagoub, a human rights lawyer who runs a legal aid organization in Khartoum says: “the new definition will give the victims and their lawyers opportunity to achieve justice, however, it’s rather meaningless without amending the evidence law of 1994, which is still in line with the old definition of rapeâ€

Despite the campaigns against stoning, the article on zina and adultery is still in place. Women and men are still in risk of flogging and death by stoning for having consensual sexual relationships while the rape punishment is not more than 10 years. most importantly this new article is accompanied by a new article related to “sexual harassment†which says: “A Person who commits sexual harassment is anyone who carries out an act, a say or a behavior that is a temptation or an invitation for someone else to practice illegitimate sex, or conducts a horrendous or inappropriate behavior with a sexual nature that harms a person, psychologically, or makes them feel unsafe, will be sentenced to a period not more than three years and lashing.â€

This article couldn’t be vague enough, which is common factor in most of the legal provisions post sharia laws; in addition to the obsession over controlling people sexuality and restricting women’s presence in the public space. Words like “temptation†or “inappropriate acts†are often associated with women’s presence in public space.

Yosra Akasha, a women human rights activist says: “ the article is not even clear on who is criminal whether it is the harasser or the harassed person, as often men harassers defend their acts by claiming that they have been tempted by the victims’ presence, clothing, or even the way of speaking; the law simply legalized these misogynists’ argumentsâ€

I think the legislators are telling women to avoid seducing men by obscuring them from public spaces. This would be the price for not punishing survivors of rape by adultery yet there is a probability of being accused by temptation and sexual harassment.

Apparently these amendments are not for the Sudanese people or a response to human rights campaigns. But rather further Eucharis to the gulf’s kingdoms to gain more financial support, and for the most radical groups within the party itself.

The Sudanese government has been one of the main Suni alliances of Iran in the region, and been accused of trafficking weapons to the Palestinian Hamas on behalf of Iran. The new amendment fits perfectly with the shifts of relations between Iran and Sudanese government. Sudan closed Iranian cultural centers last year. Moreover, one month after the new amendment, the Sudanese president flew to Saudi Arabia to take part in the ‘decisive storm’ offenses campaign targeting Huthis in Yemen. The amendment is another message that Sudan is more Wahabi than Mohamed Abdelwahab himself.

These amendments provide more reasons for rejection and concerns, than cheering and saluting, it clearly cumulates in the series of brutal legalized human rights violations in Sudan.

It’s high time for human rights activists to launch more comprehensive campaigns against the entire legal system in Sudan calling for dignified life and equality for the Sudanese men and women, rather than the focus on sole article or one law. We need new strategies, and before that, we need to stop this cheerful spirit about the current amendment.