The country of Sudan has eliminated the death penalty and flogging as punishment for same-sex relations, a major sign of progress in a country that has been under Islamist rule for nearly four decades.
The Sudanese Sovereign Council introduced a package of legal reforms that eliminated the imposition of 100 lashes as punishment for same-sex activity, but left in place a punishment of up to five years in prison for a first offense. The penalty under the reforms for a second offense is seven years in jail, and up to life in prison for a third offense.
Bedayaa, an LGBTQ rights advocacy organization in Egypt and Sudan, hailed the reforms as a “great step toward reforming the justice system in Sudan.” The organization vowed to continue pushing for complete decriminalization, and reiterated its calls for the Sovereign Council to eliminate prison sentences for same-sex intimacy, reports Reuters.
“These amendments are still not enough but they’re a great first step for the transitional government that’s trying to implement changes,” Noor Sultan, the founder of Bedayaa, said. “We see this as a positive change on the path to reform.”
The new reforms, introduced as part of a transitional government that has been in place since longtime rule Omar al-Bashir was ousted last year in response to street protests, have larger global ramifications. With those reforms, the number of nations where the death penalty or death by stoning may be a prescribed punishment for homosexuality has been reduced to 10: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Mauritania, Afghanistan, and Brunei.
The changes regarding punishments for homosexuality were part of a larger set of reforms made in response to public pressure, including the decriminalization of apostasy — which is generally punishable under Sharia law — a ban on female genital mutilation, allowing non-Muslims to consume alcohol, and allowing women to travel with their children without a permit from a male relative, according to Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari.
But more conservative forces in the Muslim-majority nation criticized the changes on social media as “immoral” and as a degradation of Sudan’s culture.
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation issued a statement on the LGBTQ reforms.
“The removal of the draconian penalty of death and flogging for consensual same-sex sexual relations in Sudan is an important step in the global fight for LGBTQ dignity and equality,” HRC President Alphonso David said in a statement. “This change sends a clear message of hope to LGBTQ people living in some of the most hostile places around the world. But, to be clear, the fight is far from over. Same-sex relationships are still criminalized in Sudan, as they are in 69 countries around the world. And at least nine other countries still allow the death penalty as a punishment for same-sex relationships. We must continue to be vigilant in fighting for all LGBTQ people to be treated with the dignity that we deserve.”