Last Updated 30 November 2020

Sudan, an Arab republic in which the predominant religion is Islam, has long suffered from severe ethnic strife and has been plagued by internal conflict. Sudan’s long civil war has given the country a poor human rights record, and has led to large numbers of internal displacements within the country. Approximately 97% of the population is Sunni Muslim, with most of the remaining 3% being Christian.1 Sudan is a member of the League of Arab States (LAS), as well as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Sudan is currently undergoing a political transition, which began in July 2019 with the overthrow of former President Omar al-Bashir, and aims to dismantle some of the hardline Islamist policies of the former regime and achieve peace and democracy through civilian rule.2 Currently, as part of a power sharing deal between the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the opposition Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) coalition, a 11-member sovereign council composed of six civilians and five military officers has been appointed to govern the country for a three-year transition period (until 2022).3

Sudan’s former President al-Bashir was convicted of corruption charges by a Sudanese court and is currently serving a two year prison sentence. He is also wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to stand trial for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes over Sudan’s military campaign in Darfur (2003-2008), in which an estimated 300,000 people were killed.4 In August 2020, Sudan’s Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, stated that Sudan would be prepared to cooperate with the ICC, and indicated that al-Bashir and other Sudanese officials facing ICC charges would be handed to the ICC.5

Constitution and government Education and children’s rights Family, community, society, religious courts and tribunals Freedom of expression advocacy of humanist values
Grave Violations
Severe Discrimination

Constitution and government

Following al-Bashir’s ousting, the TMC and the FFC signed an interim constitutional declaration (the “2019 Declaration”).6

The 2019 Declaration contains several provisions protecting the right to freedom of religious belief and worship “in accordance with the requirements of the law and public order”. It repeals the Transitional Constitution of 2005 and the constitutions of all Sudanese provinces.7,12%2C%20art. However, laws promulgated pursuant to the 2005 Constitution will remain in effect until such time as they are abolished or new laws are passed repealing them.

A raft of legal amendments were passed in July 2020 in order to bring the country’s laws in line with the democratic ideals of the 2019 Declaration. These include amendments to abolish the crime of apostasy;8 to end the death penalty and flogging for same-sex relationships (but keeping a possible sentence of prison terms ranging from five years to life);9 to permit children to travel with their mothers without permission from male members of their family; to ban female genital mutilation (FGM); to repeal some laws restricting women’s dress; and to allow consumption of alcohol for non-Muslims.10

While many in Sudan have celebrated the reforms, loyalists of al-Bashir and Sudan’s Islamic parties, including the Popular Congress Party (PCP), have denounced them. Famous Sudanese cleric Abdul Hai Youssef called for “jihad” against Hamdok’s government, stating that “bringing down this government, which has legalised apostasy and other wrongdoings, is a duty for any Muslim.”11 In March 2020, an unsuccesful assassination attempt was carried out against Prime Minister Hamdok, who is widely seen to be leading the reforms.12

Meanwhile, progressive activists have pointed out that reforms so far have been piecemeal, and many problematic and discriminatory laws in Sudan remain in effect, including a law against blasphemy under Article 125 of the Penal Code. The Penal Code also continues to allow for floggings for various vaguely defined honour-based offences, adultery, and public morality crimes.

In September 2020, the transitional government agreed to end 30 years of Islamic rule by signing a declaration adopting the principle of secularism. The declaration stated that “[f]or Sudan to become a democratic country where the rights of all citizens are enshrined, the constitution should be based on the principle of ‘separation of religion and state,’ in the absence of which the right to self-determination must be respected”.13

Education and children’s rights

The law requires that all students receive religious instruction. All schools are required to teach Islamic education classes, from pre-school up until the second year of university. The law does not require non-Muslims to attend Islamic education classes, and in practice non-Muslims will either attend private religious studies classes, or will be forced to attend Islamic education classes, to meet the religious instruction requirement and receive their certificate.14;

In January 2020, the Ministry of Education announced that pre-school students would no longer be required to learn the Quran in school.15 The transitional government has also suspended a law which required Christian schools to conduct classes on Sundays.16

The new amendments to the Penal Code abolished the death penalty for individuals younger than 18 years.17,12%

Family, community and society

Religious discrimination

Under al-Bashir, Christians in Sudan were persecuted and churches were forcibly shut down or destroyed, often under the pretext that they lacked proper building permits.18

In September 2019, Prime Minister Hamdok stated that his administration would address “religious discrimination”, and the Minister of Religion invited Jews and Christians who had left the country to return. However, religious discrimination remains prevalent in Sudan as many laws concerning personal and family affairs adopted during al-Bashir’s administration largely remain in effect. For example, while Muslim men are allowed to marry Christian or Jewish women, a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man. The implementation of criminal and civil law in terms of penalties imposed can depend upon the religion of the perpetrator. For example, whilst Muslims might be punished with lashes if caught producing or consuming alcohol, Christians are typically not punished if caught for the same crime. The justice minister has the power to release any prisoner who memorizes the Quran during his prison term.

In December 2019, the transitional government declared Christmas a national holiday and court proceedings were initiated to return land confiscated by the previous regime back to Christian communities.19

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

“Apostasy” and “blasphemy”

Apostasy was decriminalised in July 2020, and replaced by a new provision prohibiting the labeling of any group of individuals as “infidels.”20,12%2C%20art. Sudan witnessed many high profile cases of apostasy during al-Bashir’s reign. In May 2017, 23-year old activist Mohammad Salih was arrested after requesting that his religion on his national identification card be changed from Islam to “non-religious”. His case was only dismissed after Salih was found ‘not mentally competent to stand trial’.21 In 2014, Mariam Yahya Ibrahim narrowly escaped the death penalty after she was charged with apostasy for refusing to renounce her Christian faith.22

“Blasphemy” remains a criminal offence, however the provision has been amended. Prior to the amendment Article 125 of the Penal Code stated:

“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.”23

The new law abolishes the penalty of whipping and the period of imprisonment is limited to six months.24,12%2C%20art.

Media freedoms

Media freedoms were heavily restricted during al-Bashir’s rule, characterized by institutionalised censorship, mass arrests of journalists and raids on newspapers and printing presses. While there have been improvements under the new regime, Reporters Without Borders finds that, while the government has committed to freedom of expression, censorship is now exercised more discreetly. Most political newspapers continue to be affiliated or close to supporters of the former regime.25

Moreover, the 2008 Cybercrime Act, the 2009 Press and Publications Act and the 2010 National Security Forces Act, all of which have been used in the past to target critics and activists, remain in effect.26

Freedom of Assembly

Anti-government protests, which began in December 2018, were violently suppressed by state security forces, who attacked protesters wherever they congregated, including outside mosques, hospitals, and schools. Serious violations reported during the protests include the use of torture and other inhuman, degrading treatment; sexual and gender based violence and attempts by the state to limit information about events on the ground by shutting down the internet and communications networks.27 While the transitional government has committed to holding those responsible for the violence to account, it has yet to release the findings from its investigation and bring charges against officials. Human Rights Watch found that at least 120 people had been killed and more than 900 injured between 3-18 June 2019, while Sudanese officials have estimated that at least 64 women were raped, and others sexually assaulted.28


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