(Bloomberg) – The small congregation was deep in prayer when armed officers stormed their church. Four men, converts to Christianity from Islam, were brought to a local police station. All were charged with apostasy, which carries the death penalty.
Such oppression is increasingly prevalent in Sudan, a country that was supposed to have put years of harsh Islamist rule behind it. This summer has also seen authorities in a southern state impose a death penalty by stoning for adultery and the emergence of a Puritan police force that is toughening laws banning women from wearing pants and cracking down on drug traffickers. alcohol in the capital, Khartoum.
These are just the latest signs that the military, which took power in October, is undoing democratic gains from the 2019 uprising that toppled dictator Omar al-Bashir after three decades. At least 100 pro-democracy activists have been killed and many more jailed by security forces as army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan cracks down on opposition.
Both the United States and the European Union have tried unsuccessfully to pressure the military to govern with civilian politicians, a formula that has successfully brought the country out of the cold after Bashir. But officials from the former leader’s National Congress Party are regaining key posts in what activists say is a full-fledged counter-revolution. The military, meanwhile, controls the lion’s share of the economy’s most productive sectors, including agricultural conglomerates, banks and medical import companies.
“The coup created a situation as if there had never been a revolution,” said Omayma Amin Elmardi, director of the National Association of Sudanese Women.
Mohammed Haroun, a 22-year-old student among four men arrested in the town of Zalingi in June, said they were questioned about their beliefs.
Returning home after being released on bail, Haroun said security forces kept up the pressure. “Militia and gunmen around the house sometimes fire shots in the air to scare us,” he said. The national police spokesman did not respond to calls seeking comment.
In another case of people being targeted because of their religion, a Christian leader and his three children are believed to have been murdered in West Darfur in July, according to the African Center for Justice and Peace Studies. The group calls on the Sudanese authorities to protect all citizens, end the harassment of Christians, ensure respect for religious rights and guarantee freedom of worship.
Learn more about the military coup of October 2021
In Khartoum, a new police ‘morals’ unit is strengthening public order laws that prohibit women from wearing trousers and the sale and consumption of alcohol.
Last month his forces raided the home of Hanan, a liquor vendor in the El-Deim neighborhood of Khartoum, confiscating his goods and taking his money. “We are back to the dark days of police blackmail and beatings,” he said. Two other liquor vendors also said they had their premises raided.
In Sudan’s provinces, meanwhile, violence has increased between tribal groups and drawn government forces, particularly in Darfur, Blue Nile state and the town of Kassala where clashes erupted last month. amid a general breakdown in public order that has led to increasing fragmentation of ethnic groups.
A further deterioration in Sudan’s social fabric could spur instability in an already turbulent region with an ongoing civil war in Ethiopia, an Islamist insurgency wreaking havoc in Somalia and unrest in South Sudan.
Sudan’s economy is collapsing, cut off from billions of dollars in aid from the US, EU and World Bank and facing soaring commodity prices and strangled trade. Inflation is over 125% and a hunger crisis is brewing in some parts of the country.
After Bashir’s ousting, the transitional government had attempted to usher in a new era, separating religion from state and introducing reforms that included revising the school curriculum to restore philosophy, music and drama classes. .
The gains were arguably greatest for women, who played a major role in the massive protests that led to Bashir’s demise. Female genital mutilation is prohibited and women no longer need the consent of their husband or male guardian to travel with their children. The nation got its first-ever female chief justice.
Now “the same narrative that the last regime used against women is coming back,” said Fatima Alabbas, who served as a consultant to interim prime minister Abdallah Hamdok. She cited as an example the case of Maryam Alsyed Tiyrab, 20, accused of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning in White Nile state in July – even though she was already separated from her husband before meeting anyone else.
Tiyrab lives with his family while the court renders a final judgment. Zalingi’s four Christian men are also awaiting their fate. According to a report, apostasy last year only resulted in the death penalty in about 10 countries, including Afghanistan, Iran and Yemen.
“The reforms proposed by the transitional government have been stalled,” said Sudan’s Abdalla Didan, an analyst at Khartoum-based Sudan Democracy First Group. “Sharia laws are still enforced.”
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