On Apostasy and Blasphemy in Sudan

September 28, 2018

When the Islamists seized power in Sudan through a coup d’état in July 1989, their objective was simple and clear: the establishment of an Islamic regime and the revival of sharia, particularly its penal code.

To realize this objective, Islam, as the regime’s official ideology, had to enjoy a special status that puts it above criticism and bars Muslim citizens from abandoning it. This led, for the first time in the country’s post-independence legal history, to the introduction of an apostasy article when the Islamists imposed their penal code in 1991. According to article 126, “There shall be deemed to commit the offence of apostasy, every Muslim who propagates for the renunciation of the creed of Islam or publicly declares his renouncement thereof by an express statement or conclusive act.” An apostate who refuses to repent and return to the fold of Islam is to be put to death.

The apostasy article was expanded in a 2015 amendment to include four acts of blasphemy that were considered as acts of apostasy: 1. blaspheming Muhammad; 2. blaspheming against the Qur’an; 3. blaspheming Muhammad’s companions; and 4. blaspheming A’isha (one of Muhammad’s wives).

Besides making the offenses of apostasy and blasphemy into a single offense, the 2015 amendment shows a greater degree of harshness. The 1991 article states that in case the offender recants, the case shall be dropped. In contrast, the amended article does not leave such a person get off free—he (or she) should be flogged and put behind bars for a maximum period of five years.

Religions other than Islam are protected by article 125 which says, “Whoever, by any means, publicly abuses or insults any of the religions, their rites, or beliefs, or sanctities or seeks to excite feelings of contempt and disrespect against the believers thereof, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or with a fine, or with whipping which may not exceed forty lashes.”

Though article 125 is about the general protection of religions other than Islam, it does not result in the establishment of a state of religious equality in the country. The penal code privileges Islam as the legal situation is such that conversion to Islam is perfectly legal whereas conversion out of Islam (or its abandonment) is a capital offense.

This oppressive state of affairs that robs citizens of their basic freedoms of thought and expression has to end. It can only end with the return of democracy. Unfortunately, Sudanese democracy has historically failed to stress the fundamentally secular nature of democracy without which it cannot be real and genuine. Hopefully, with the restoration of their democracy, this will be the big lesson that the Sudanese would have learnt after having lived through the nightmare of an Islamic regime. Sudanese secular humanists have a major role to play in making such a future possible.

International Blasphemy Rights Day is part of CFI’s mission to pursue equality for atheists and non-believers. IBRD is a day to support free speech and the rights of those who disagree with religious views to voice their opinions peacefully. Join the cause and support International Blasphemy Rights Day and work like it today!