Sudan uprising: Sweeping reforms usher in justice and freedom

Sunset in Khartoum, Sudan, January 29, 2017. Photo by Christopher Michel via Flickr CC BY 2.0.

Sweeping reforms in Sudan are ushering in a new era of justice and freedom.

On July 9, Minister of Justice Nasredeen Abdulbari declared on Twitter that four new laws were approved by the president of the sovereign council. These reforms restore fundamental rights and freedoms long repressed by the former regime under dictator Omar Al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan for 30 years.

The Human Rights and Justice System Reform Commission Act 2020 has been signed, the Miscellaneous Amendments (Fundamental Rights and Freedoms) Act 2020, the Anti-Informatics Crime (Amendment) Act 2020 and the Criminal Code (Amendment) 2020.

These laws show the identity of a new Sudan that recognizes rights, diversity, freedom of belief and expression.

In a Twitter thread, Abdulbari wrote:

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.

As for the law of various amendments, it undertakes reforms in multiple laws to bring them in line with the principles of human rights and fundamental freedoms contained in the constitutional document, and thus represents a major step towards achieving one of the pillars of the victorious slogan of the December revolution, which is freedom.

Feminism victory

The Fundamental Rights and Freedoms Act is a victory for feminism in Sudan because it guarantees freedom of travel for women.

Under the Bashir regime, women could not travel without explicit permission from either a father or husband (if married). Mothers can now travel with their children without permission from the children’s father. In the past, these restrictions were especially disastrous for divorced families that often led to arguments. Women had to go to court simply to secure permission to travel alone with their children.

Also, under the new Criminal Law, Sudan will criminalize female circumcision, an act that was not recognized as a crime under the Bashir regime.

For the first time in Sudanese history, a woman — Nimat Abdullah Khair — holds the position of chief justice.

One netizen cheered:

Congratulations [for Sudanese women], the great achievement that took place today by amending unfair laws regarding the right of women to deprive them while traveling with children without their consent; Briefing the law criminalizing female circumcision. [Live without oppression or break] “Sudanese feminist's slogan.” And this is the beginning of a long journey in protecting the rights of women and children in Sudan. 

Fundamental rights

In Sudan, more than 95 percent of Sudanese people are Muslim. Under the Bashir regime, citizens strictly adhered to the Sharia laws of Islam. The recent amendments have guaranteed justice to non-Muslim minorities.

For example, under Bashir, alcohol was banned because it is not permitted in Islam. Under the new Criminal Law, the alcohol ban has been amended to guarantee the freedom of non-Muslims to live their lives without being held accountable to Sharia laws.

These reforms also guarantee freedom of belief — the punishment for apostasy has been lifted. Before these reforms, the authority gave anyone who denounced Islam a period of three days to review the decision and face death if they did not retract the denouncement.

Now, all Sudanese citizens have the right to choose their religion or belief without fear of punishment.

The Criminal Code has also been amended. The death penalty has been abolished for those under the age of 18 and over 70.

Sudan reacts

The amendments received support from several high-profile government officials, such as Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who wrote on Twitter:

The passing of these new laws and amendments is an important step in reforming the justice system in order to achieve the slogan of the revolution: freedom, peace and justice, through judicial laws and institutions guaranteeing the rule of law, legal reviews and amendments will continue until we continue to address all distortions in the legal systems in Sudan.

However, Abdulhai Yousif, a well-known, devout Islamic cleric with over 75,000 followers, denounced the reforms, calling them a “war against virtue, and an [act of] aggression against the nation:”

The issuance of amendments to the criminal law confirms to everyone what long-time adherents of religion said — that this government came as a war against virtue, and an aggression against the nation’s religion and identity.

And some people created hashtag #لا_تشريع_بلا_تفويض  which means “No legislation without a mandate.”

Currently, Sudan does not have a legislative council or “parliament,” pending peace talks that must establish full and fair representation for conflict zones under the parliament dome. The 2019 transitional constitution of Sudan known as “the constitutional document” gave the joint meeting of the Sovereign Council and the Cabinet the right to create new legislation.

However, citizens say these sweeping reforms are undemocratic because any new legislation should happen through the consideration of citizens’ opinions.

Bakr Elterify cautioned:

Some people do not understand the catastrophe, it is a dictatorship by the way, even if the laws are good.

And Aabid lamented the way these laws were formed:

Laws passed without making their drafts available for societal discussion and presented to a defective legislative body designed to tailor laws to suit the interests and desires of unelected governing partners in light of deliberate delay to form any effective regulatory body of oversight. This is the method of dictatorship and not a method of legislating laws.

Sudan's transitional government faces threats of counterrevolution due to economic instability and needs international support at this critical time, but these reforms show the government's willingness to build a new Sudan where freedom, peace and justice thrive.

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