After more than 30 years of Islamist rule under Umar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir1 , Sudan has announced extensive reforms, including the abolition of flogging and execution as punishment for gay sex.

On 9 July 2020, the Sudanese “Sovereign Council” – a kind of transitional government made up of military and civilians – adopted a series of legislative changes to reform the judicial system in Sudan. The amendments also affect Article 148 of the 1991 Criminal Code (Sodomy Law).

Along with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia, Sudan has long been one of the six countries in the world where the death penalty is imposed for homosexual conduct. According to Sudan’s old sodomy law, gay men faced 100 lashes in the first offence, five years imprisonment for the second offence and the death penalty for the third. The new law continues to provide penalties for homosexual conduct, only the sentence has been reduced – to imprisonment for between five years and life.

“Great first step” on the road to social change

 

Although Article 148 has not been completely abolished, Sudan’s queer movement sees the decision as a promising sign of enormous significance. “These changes are still not enough, but they are a great first step of the transitional government trying to implement changes,” said Noor Sultan, founder and executive director of Bedayaa, an LGBTIQ* human rights organisation working in Egypt and Sudan.

Sultan said the government has been extremely discreet in dealing with the change in the sodomy law. For example, the amendment document did not explain in detail what Article 148 was about. Sultan explained that this was for social reasons:

“I think society is still reluctant to accept such changes, but I hope the government will continue on its path to reform.”

 

 

Other historic reforms of the judicial system

 

The amendment of Article 148 is only one of several reforms announced by Justice Minister Nasr El-Din Abdel-Bari. The apostasy, i.e. apostasy from the Islamic faith, and the consumption of alcohol by non-Muslims was decriminalised. Public floggings no longer take place and children and persons over 70 years of age may no longer be executed.

For women in particular, however, the changes in the law represent a major step forward. All articles that undermine the human dignity of women are to be abolished. In future, Sudan will allow women to travel with their children without the permission of a male relative. Of historical significance is the ban on female genital mutilation (FGM), which studies have shown affects up to 90 percent of Sudanese girls and women.

Umar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir came to power in 1989 after a bloodless military coup. As the authoritarian head of state of a repressive Islamic fundamentalist regime, he ruled Sudan for over 30 years before being overthrown by the military on 11 April 2019 following protests by the population, which had begun in 2018 under the slogan “Freedom, Peace and Justice”.

In February this year, the Sudanese interim government announced that it would extradite al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. The ICC had already issued an arrest warrant against al-Bashir in 2008 for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in the Darfur conflict.

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  • sudan-2132633_1920: By: David Peterson / CC0

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