(14 September 2011) On 29 July 2011, 150 people were arrested by police in Hay Mayo, South Khartoum. All are members of the Hausa ethnic group and from Darfur. While 21 individuals (children and the elderly) were immediately released, 129 were subsequently charged with apostasy, disturbance of the public peace, and being a public nuisance under Articles 126, 69 and 77 of the 1991 Sudanese Penal Code respectively (Case No. 2157/2011). The most serious of these charges, apostasy, carries a maximum sentence of death. The case is being tried in Al Nasar Criminal Court, Hay Mayo, South Khartoum and is presided over by Judge Ussma Ahmed abd Alla.
According to Article 126, an apostate includes anyone “who propagates for renunciation of the creed of Islam or publicly declares his renouncement thereof by an express statement or conclusive act.” If found guilty of the above offense, the defendants, subject to Article 126, will be given the opportunity to repent. Failure to repent may result in the application of the maximum sentence, which is the death penalty. The other charges carry less severe, though harsh sentences. Under Article 69, the maximum sentence is a prison term not to exceed three months, with a fine or a whipping, not exceeding 20 lashes.
In a hearing on the case, which was brought by the police and represented by Ahmed Abdulla, the plaintiff testified that the defendants follow only the Quran and ignore the Sunna (words and deeds of the Prophet Mohamed). The judge saw 50 defendants on 14 September before announcing that the next session will be scheduled for 19 September 2011. The majority of the defendants were released on bail. However the following were refused bail and remain in police custody:
Yahaya Omer Ibrahm Adam
Sluiman Mohmed Ibrahim
Zakaria Abd Alla
Mohmed Musa Omer
The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) condemns the use of the death penalty in all cases and calls on the government of Sudan to respect the right to freedom of religion and expression. Under article 38.1 of the Interim Constitution, “every person shall have the right to the freedom of religious creed and worship, and . . . no person shall be coerced to adopt such faith, that he/she does not believe in, nor to practice rites or services to which he/she does not voluntarily consent.” Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Sudan is a party, states that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”
Given the track record of the Government of Sudan, it is possible that Article 126 is being used to suppress ethnic minorities and those who the state perceives as potential sources of opposition. These arrests are particularly troubling in the context of ongoing constitutional debates in Khartoum over whether the new constitution should be based on sharia or on civil and political rights. Actions taken to suppress and punish religious minorities could be interpreted as way of intimidating and silencing proponents of a secular Sudanese state.
The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies calls on the Ministry of Justice to review the cases of the group and reminds the Government of Sudan of its relevant domestic and international obligations under the Interim Constitution and ICCPR.