Sudan repeals repressive “Public Order Laws”

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Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok

CSW welcomes the repeal of Sudan’s repressive Public Order Laws, announced on 29 November, but remains concerned that the country’s Criminal Code has not been amended and can still be used.

On 29 November the Prime Minister of Sudan Abdalla Hamdok welcomed the abolition of the Public Order Law by the transitional government, paying tribute to “the women and youth of my country who have endured the atrocities that resulted from the implementation of this law.”

The repeal of the Public Order Laws has also been widely welcomed by human rights groups, and particularly by women’s rights groups. The laws were designed to regulate relations between men and women, including requirements for separate sections for men and women on public transport and the prohibition of dancing together. The laws also regulated the dress code for women in public.

However, the repealed public order laws were local laws implemented in each state. The national laws remain in effect through the 1991 Criminal Code, and it is under these laws that religious minority women have historically been arrested, fined and given lashes on public indecency charges. On 25 June 2015 twelve Christian women from the Nuba Mountains were arrested as they left the El Izba Baptist Church in Khartoum wearing trousers and skirts. Two of the women were subsequently found guilty of indecent or immoral dress and fined.

Sudanese women’s rights activist and journalist Wini Omar, who was prosecuted for indecent dress in 2017 under article 152 of the criminal code, told CSW: “When it comes to public order regime in Sudan, there is an urgent need to work on amending the Criminal Code, which includes numerous articles that discriminate against women and limit the personal freedoms of individuals. It also requires the abolition of public order courts and the public order police. Amending personal status law is a crucial step, and legislation on sexual harassment and domestic violence are also needed to protect women”

Sudan’s criminal code also contains provisions that limit personal freedoms and criminalise apostasy and blasphemy. In May 2014 Meriam Ibrahim was sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery, and to death by hanging for apostasy by the Public Order Court in El Haj Yousif, Khartoum. The court ruled that despite being raised by her Christian mother, Ms Ibrahim was a Muslim because her father was Muslim. The law also prohibits Muslim women from marrying a non-Muslim man, therefore by marrying a Christian she was deemed to have committed adultery. The court of appeal overturned the original ruling in June 2014 and declared Ms Ibrahim innocent, but the law under which she was convicted remains in effect. 

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “While we welcome the repeal of Sudan’s repressive local Public Order Laws, which have been used historically to target women and have had a particularly deleterious effect on women from religious minority communities and lower socio-economic backgrounds, we remain concerned that no changes have been made to the criminal code. The criminal code contains numerous provisions that are inconsistent with Sudan’s international obligations to protect the rights of women, as well as the right to freedom of religion or belief. We urge the Minister of Justice to urgently prioritise the review and amendment of these damaging laws.”