Published on 14 July 2020 in Campaign news

Human rights victory as Sudan abolishes death sentence for apostasy

In March 2020, we reported that Sudan was planning on scrapping the death penalty for apostasy by removing Article 126 of the Penal Code. A bill reforming Sudan’s criminal code has now been signed into law, and according to Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari, Article 126 has been revoked.  

On 11 July 2020, the Justice Minister announced that Article 126 had been revoked from the criminal code heavily influenced by Sharia Laws. The Article read:

(1) Whoever propagates the renunciation of Islam or publicly renounces it by explicit words or an act of definitive indication is said to commit the offence of Riddah (apostasy).
(2) Whoever commits apostasy shall be asked to repent within a period decided by the court and if he insisted on his apostasy and was not a new convert he shall be punished with death.
(3) Punishment for apostasy lapses if the apostate refrained from apostasy before the execution. 

Sharia Laws were first introduced in Sudan by former President Jaafar Nimeiri in 1983 and later extended by former President Omar al-Bashir, who was deposed last year after nearly three decades of rule.

While Article 126 has been repealed, it is unclear whether apostasy has been decriminalized in full, as the new Penal Code has not been implemented yet. Insulting religious belief, more commonly known as ‘blasphemy’, is seemingly still punishable under Article 125 of the Penal Code. 

The changes the Sudanese government has now made represent a promising step forward in a country with strict limitations on freedom of religion or belief and on freedom of expression. However, it is imperative that apostasy and ‘religious insult’ are both decriminalized in full. 

There are now 11 countries in the world where apostasy is punishable by death, violating the fundamental right to freedom of religion or belief, which includes the right to leave a religion.