Tuesday, July 21, 2020

RLPB 559. Sudan: Islamists Protest Law Reform

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 559 | Wed 22 Jul 2020
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By Elizabeth Kendal

Sudan Justice Minister
Nasredeen Abdulbari
(profile: Harvard Law School)
On 10 July, Sudan's Justice Minister, Nasredeen Abdulbari tweeted: 'The Human Rights and Justice System Reform Commission Act 2020 has been signed, [along with] the Miscellaneous Amendments (Fundamental Rights and Freedoms) Act 2020, the Anti-Informatics Crime (Amendment) Act 2020 and the Criminal Code (Amendment) 2020. The commission established under the law passed will lead a comprehensive and profound process of reforming the human rights and justice system, which during the years of the regime has experienced ruin - an unprecedented devastation in the history of Sudan.' In a televised interview on 11 July, the Justice Minister confirmed that changes to the law will ensure all citizens enjoy religious freedom and equality in citizenship and before the law. 'We have dropped all the articles that had led to any kind of discrimination,' he said. 'We assure our people that the legal reformation will continue until we drop all the laws violating the human rights in Sudan.'

The Miscellaneous Amendments Act removes a raft of Sharia-based provisions. Women are now able to travel with their children without a permit from a male relative. Non-Muslims are now permitted to consume alcohol (although not in public). Public flogging is abolished; while apostasy - previously a capital crime for which Muslim converts could be stoned to death - is now decriminalised. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is now banned and anyone found guilty of performing FGM will face a three-year jail term. Also banned is the practice of 'takfir', which is when a Muslim declares another Muslim to be 'apostate' and, as such, deserving of death.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) welcomed the changes, noting that 'law reform has always been deeply contentious in Sudan.' While agreeing that there is still a long way to go, HRW applauded the move as a 'positive first step'. Similarly, Church leaders and Christians, while pleased with the move, are still waiting for the return of confiscated assets. Kamal Fahmi, a Sudanese Christian activist, has long campaigned against the apostasy law. As founder of Set My People Free, he is dedicated to the right of 1.3 billion Muslims to be able to change their religion. He told Christianity Today (13 July) that, while he anticipates an Islamist push-back, he is praying for God to protect the Justice Minister and remains hopeful that the goals of the revolution - freedom, dignity, justice and peace - will be realised.

As anticipated, Islamists are outraged. No sooner had the announcement been made, Abdulhai Yousef, a well-known hard-line cleric with over 75,000 twitter followers, engaged in takfir by accusing the Justice Minister of apostasy and calling for jihad against Prime Minister Hamdok's government. 'Bringing down this government, which has legalised apostasy and other wrongdoings, is a duty for any Muslim', railed Yousef, who is currently in Turkey evading arrest on charges pertaining to terrorism. Rejecting the law changes, the Islamic Popular Congress Party (PCP) called for protests after Friday prayers. Likewise, the former ruling National Congress Party (NCP) of ousted president Omar al-Bashir urged Muslims to take to the streets after prayers to bring down the transitional government, warning that the 'battle now is between the secularists and Islam'.

Pro-Sharia, anti-government protests, Friday 17 July.
(Poster targets Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari)

On Friday 17 July Muslims emerging from fundamentalist mosques led protests in Khartoum, Khartoum North and neighbouring Omdurman. Ahmed Brair (23) told Turkey's Anadolu Agency (AA) that he joined the demonstrations to stop what he called the 'apostasy government' [more takfir]. 'We're ready', he said, 'for jihad to defend Islam.' As he marched, he chanted, 'Nasredeen is an enemy of Allah'. Others shouted slogans, including 'God's laws shall not be replaced', 'Hamdok, Khartoum is not New York' and 'Sharia, sharia or we die'. They carried banners reading 'No to secularism' and 'God's religion and the Sharia form a red line.' On Tuesday 21 July the trial against ousted president Omar al-Bashir commenced in Khartoum. Al-Bashir has been charged with the capital crime of 'undermining the constitutional order' under Article 96 of the Sudanese Criminal Law of 1983, and 'participation in a criminal act' under Article 78 of the same law. The charges stem from his role in the 1989 coup against the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Sadek al-Mahdi. It would be reasonable to expect that future Friday protests may well grow larger and louder. Indeed, we could be witnessing the early stages of organised Islamic resistance. As noted in RLPB 516 (21 Aug 2019), 'divine help is needed if "New Sudan" is to be realised'.


* bless and protect Prime Minister Hamdok, Justice Minister Abdulbari, and all who are working for reform in Sudan.

* grant all Sudan's Christian leaders - both civic and religious - an abundance of divine wisdom, patience and grace; may the Holy Spirit guide them as they lead God's people and engage with the government in these pivotal days. 'I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you' (Psalm 32:8 ESV)

* frustrate every evil plot aimed at destabilising the government and derailing reform; may Satan's powerful grip be broken; may the will of the sovereign Lord prevail.

'Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations ... He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth ...' (promise from Isaiah 42:1-4 ESV; see Prayer Fuel from Isaiah's Servant Songs)


On 10 July Sudan's Justice Minister, Nasredeen Abdulbari, announced that the transitional government had passed a package of laws aimed at ending discrimination and human rights abuses. Numerous discriminatory and repressive Sharia provisions have been removed. Apostasy (leaving Islam) - once a capital crime - has been decriminalised. Whilst law reform still has a long way to go, the move has been welcomed by Sudan's marginalised and persecuted ethnic and religious minorities, along with all who supported the December 2018 - August 2019 revolution for a 'New Sudan' in which all citizens would enjoy freedom, dignity, justice and peace. As anticipated, Islamists are outraged. Islamic political parties and fundamentalist clerics immediately called for protests. On Friday 17 July protesters called for 'jihad' against the 'apostate government' of Prime Minister Hamdok. Please pray for Sudan.


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com