(15 May 2017) On 8 May 2017 criminal charges under article 126 (apostasy) and 69 (disturbance of the public peace) of the 1991 Criminal Act were filed by the prosecutor of Omdurman against Mohamed Salih Aldisogi, (m), 23 years of age, after he attempted to change his religion on his state identification documents from Muslim to “non-religious”. The charges against Mr. Aldisogi were later dropped by the prosecutor of Omdurman after a state appointed psychiatrist found him to be not mentally competent to stand trial.
On 7 May Mr. Aldisogi had submitted a request to the Family Court in Omdurman requesting that his official national identification record be changed to reflect that he is not Muslim, but non-religious. Official national identification records in Sudan list Muslim as an individual’s religion as a matter of practice. The court dismissed the request, stating that the matter was beyond its jurisdiction, and referred him to the Omdurman Court. When Mr. Aldisogi attempted to change his record the following day, the Prosecutor of Omdurman filed charges and ordered his arrest by police attached to his office.
Mr. Aldisogi was released later in the day on 8 May and the charges dropped after being examined by a state appointed psychiatrist, who examined him without his consent, and concluded that Mr. Aldisogi was not mentally competent to stand trial.
A legal team representing Mr. Aldisogi stated that they did not accept the record of the psychiatrist, as the examination was made non-consensually and without him being brought before an independent psychiatrist. Mr. Aldisogi’s case is the first time the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) has documented the leverage of criminal charges of apostasy for a non-religious individual, and not a Muslim with alternative views of Islam, or a Christian.
The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) believes that the findings of the state ordered psychiatrist are based solely on Mr. Aldisogi’s personal beliefs surrounding religion, and notes that the examining psychiatrist is state appointed and that the examination took place without Mr. Aldisogi’s consent. Further, ACJPS has serious concerns surrounding official state documentation of Mr. Aldisogi as being not mentally competent to stand trial, as well as the high profile nature of this case, due to public misconceptions and stigma surrounding mental illness.
These developments come just days after the 5 May 2017 destruction of the Church of Christ in Soba, the last remaining Christian Church in Soba. Between the 2011 secession of South Sudan and 2015, twelve churches were destroyed in the area. A local order within Khartoum prohibits the construction of new churches under the rationale that no new churches are needed due to the secession of South Sudan and the presumed exodus of ethnic Southerners, who were predominantly Christian.
On 11 May 2011, Abdelrahim Kodi, a church leader originally from South Kordofan, and Abdelmoneim Abdelmula, an activist originally from Darfur, were released after receiving a presidential pardon.
Sudan’s constitution and international human rights commitments guarantee the freedom of expression and freedom of religion. Article 31 of Sudan’s Interim National Constitution of 2005 provides that all persons are “equal before the law and are entitled without discrimination, as to race, colour, sex, language, religious creed, political ospinion, or ethnic origin, to the equal protection of the law.” Article 38 further provides that “every person shall have the right to the freedom of religious creed and worship”.
In a positive development, Abdelrahim Kodi, a church leader originally from South Kordofan, and Abdelmoneim Abdelmula, an activist originally from Darfur, were released on 11 May 2017 after receiving a presidential pardon. The two men were serving a 12 year prison sentence after being convicted on 29 January 2017 under a number of criminal charges. A Czech national convicted alongside the two men of similar charges received a presidential pardon on 26 February 2017 and was subsequently deported.
This past week’s events exemplify the complex and oscillating environment for the freedom of religion in Sudan, and the different forms of leverage utilised by the Government of Sudan to destroy religious diversity in the state. They are particularly troubling when viewed in context of the upcoming constitutional revision period pledged by President Omar al Bashir. In the past, Bashir has made inflammatory statements stating that a new constitution would be solely based on Islam and with no room for ethnic and cultural diversity.
During Sudan’s Universal Periodic Review in 2016, the Government of Sudan accepted recommendations to “ensure full respect for freedom of religion or belief and the human rights of the persons belonging to ethnic and religious minorities, in line with the international human rights law”.
Churches are often regarded by faith communities as an important part of the social fabric and cultural heritage of the community. The demolition in Soba places severe limitations on the capacity of members of ethnic and religious minorities to gather. Two parishioners, Poles Salah, (m), and Naji Abdalla, (m), were arrested by the joint forces after they attempted to take photos of the destroyed church. They were taken to the Political Department of the NISS offices near Shande bus station, where they were questioned and released after two hours.
The demolition in Soba comes following a January 2017 announcement made by the local Khartoum government administration to demolish at least 27 churches within Khartoum, many of which are located on strategic plots of land, prompting suspicions that their closure is linked to ongoing crackdowns on religious minorities in Sudan but also to facilitate the sale of valuable land to investors. As of May, the churches are still standing and the order is being challenged in court.
The realities facing religious minorities in Sudan such as Christians, and individuals with more heterodox views of Islam, fail to reflect legal commitments made by Sudan of equality before the law. This is particularly troubling in a state comprised of tremendous diversity in religious belief and ethnicity.
ACJPS: Mossaad Mohamed Ali/ Emily Cody: +256 779584542/ +256 788695068 (Kampala), or firstname.lastname@example.org.