Sudanese couple faces criminal charges after conversion to Christianity
Christian married couple on trial facing baseless charges after conversion to Christianity despite decriminalization of apostasy
Experts warn that courts are weaponized to prosecute converts under false pretexts
SUDAN (23 March 2022) – Will conversions to Christianity be respected in Sudan? A married Sudanese Christian convert couple is currently on trial facing baseless charges after they converted to Christianity despite the decriminalization of apostasy. If found guilty, Nada (wife) and Hamouda (husband)* may be punished by 100 lashes each, and Hamouda also faces one year of expatriation and would not be able to remain in Sudan. A hearing in their case will be held on 31 March.
“Everyone should be free to choose and live out their faith without fear of legal sanctions on their personal life. Both international and Sudanese law protect Nada and Hamouda’s right to freely live out the faith of their choosing. But converts to Christianity face severe pressure and threats in Sudan. The interplay between Sharia and civil courts in this case shows how those who are hostile to converts can weaponize the legal system to go after people who haven’t done anything wrong. We urge the courts to protect converts, rather than punish them,” said Sean Nelson, Legal Counsel for ADF International, a legal advocacy organisation supporting the couple’s defense.
Threats of apostasy accusations wielded to annul marriage
Nada and Hamouda were both Muslims when they married in 2016. When Hamouda converted to Christianity in 2018, Nada’s family exerted threats against her and applied pressure to have a Sharia court dissolve their marriage. At the time, Sudan also considered apostasy a crime worthy of the death penalty, further increasing the pressure for the couple to separate. As a direct result of Hamouda’s conversion, the Sharia court annulled the marriage, and Nada and the couple’s two children went to stay with her family. In 2020 apostasy was decriminalized in Sudan. Shortly afterwards, in 2021, Nada converted to Christianity and returned home to her husband with their children.
The couple considers the Sharia court’s annulment of their marriage to be illegitimate because it was initiated under duress from Nada’s family, and because Nada did not consider her own conversion to be possible. Because of the criminalization of apostasy, she could have faced severe consequences had she been accused of apostasy. Nada’s brother made good on his threats against Nada after she converted and returned to Hamouda by bringing their marriage to the attention of the Sudanese criminal prosecutor alleging adultery. Nada and Hamouda each face a penalty of 100 lashes, with Hamouda facing the possibility of an additional punishment of a year in exile.
“Sudan must protect religious freedom”
Only 4.4% of the Sudan’s population of 44.6 million is Christian. According to OpenDoors, Christian women and girls in Sudan, particularly converts, are vulnerable to rape, forced marriage and domestic violence because of their faith. Converts will also be denied inheritance and, if they’re already married, divorced from their husbands.
Sudan has also recently experienced tumultuous political changes. The country once criminalized apostasy, and adultery charges have been used to punish converts, as in the famous case of Mariam Ibrahim. In May 2014, while 8 months pregnant, she was sentenced to death for apostasy under Sudan’s Sharia law and was due to be flogged for being married to a Christian. Mariam was forced to give birth to her daughter shackled in a prison cell. She now advocates for everyone’s right to live out their faith freely without fear of persecution:
“I lived the painful experience of a Christian woman shackled in prison because of my faith. It saddens me that even after the decriminalization of apostasy, the courts still fail to protect religious minorities, especially Christian converts. There are many others out there who suffer like Nada and Hamouda because they are targeted for their faith. Sudan must protect religious freedom and all those who wish to exercise it. The international community must speak out on Nada and Hamouda’s behalf, as they did in my case,” said Mariam Ibrahim.
Courts “weaponized” to persecute converts
After a revolution in 2019, Sudan looked to be making improvements regarding the state of religious freedom, including decriminalizing apostasy. But a military coup in October 2021 has put much of this progress at risk.
“Courts shouldn’t be weaponized to persecute converts. Although apostasy has been decriminalised in Sudan, Christian converts are still being persecuted. On 31 March, Nada and Hamouda’s defense will present their arguments with the help of Christian clergy members to explain why they still consider the couple to be married. This case is a significant test of whether Sudan’s legal reforms on religious freedom made during the transitional government in 2020 will be recognized and protected by the courts,” continued Nelson.
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