Humanists UK welcomes Sudan proposal to abolish death penalty for apostasy

19 March, 2020

Humanists UK has welcomed the Sudanese Government’s announcement that it plans to abolish the death penalty for apostasy, but says the law must go further and decriminalise both blasphemy and apostasy which will still carry severe penalities for anyone convicted.

In a statement issued by a member of the transitional government of Sudan and published in a Sudanese newspaper, the Government says a new Bill proposes to abolish the death penalty for apostasy. It also says it will replace it with a disposition which makes it a criminal offense to falsely accuse a Muslim of apostasy, which is aimed at discouraging false accusations.

In Sudan, ‘apostasy’ or conversion to a religion or belief other than Islam is criminalised, with those found guilty potentially facing the death penalty. Under the new law, leaving Islam would still be criminalised but people will not face the death penalty. ‘Blasphemy’ is similarly outlawed, and is punishable by up to six months in prison, flogging, a fine, or a combination of these.

Fourteen countries currently have the death penalty for blasphemy or apostasy. Last year, in its intervention at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Humanists UK called for all countries to abolish the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy. And earlier this month in its intervention at the UN in Geneva, Humanists UK called for the immediate release of anyone facing blasphemy or apostasy charges.

Sudan has a particularly bad record for human rights abuses with expression of core humanist principles on democracy, freedom, and human rights brutally repressed. Sentences for apostasy and blasphemy are actively given, including in 2015 where reports suggest that up to 27 men were arrested for ‘apostasy’ on the accusation that they were Quranists (denying the authority of the Hadith), and were facing trial.

In May 2017, Mohamed Salih was arrested for ‘apostasy’ after writing to a Sudanese court to change the religion on his national identification card from Islam to ‘atheist’ or ‘non-religious’. It was widely reported that he faced a possible death sentence. The case was later dismissed after Mohamed was found ‘not mentally competent to stand trial’.

Humanists UK is a founding member of the End Blasphemy Laws coalition and works to remove blasphemy and apostasy laws worldwide.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said:

‘It is a huge step forward that Sudan is planning to abolish the death penalty as a punishment for apostasy. We hope this move will serve as a positive inspiration to the thirteen other countries around the world that similarly have a death sentence for apostasy or blasphemy.

‘However we are still very concerned that apostasy and blasphemy are to remain criminalised. There are no indications that Sudan will repeal these laws which means it is likely that people will still face severe punishments including prison, floggings, and other abuses. We urge the Sudanese Government to go further and decriminalise these so-called crimes to ensure that people’s human rights to freedom of expression and of religion or belief are protected under the law.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Read our news item calling for the death penalty to be abolished for blasphemy and apostasy globally.

Read more about our international campaigns.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.