Discrimination against Muslims & Non-Muslims over Alcohol Consumption
The aim of this article is to explain the recent amendments to the 1991 criminal code as well as to shed light on the implications thereof on sellers of alcohol, especially women, from a legal point of view. The article also pinpoints the mistake committed by the legislator when he/she made Islam as the baseline whereby citizens are criminalized and discriminated against. On the other hand, this article aims to provide help to lawyers in order to stand against laws based on religious discrimination as well as find legally sound ways to get them abolished.
On the 11th of July 2020, the Transitional Sovereignty Council and the Council of Ministers of Sudan passed the amendments made to several articles of the 1991 criminal code. Among these articles are articles 78 and 79 of the criminal code which are related to dealing with and alcohol consumption. Alcohol consumption was criminalized previously in Sudan under the same law. After these amendments, however, only Muslims are affected by the crime of dealing in, selling, buying, manufacturing, and possession of alcohol. The other thing is that the amended articles discriminate against Muslims and non-Muslims in the issue of alcohol consumption. Such a thing raises several problems including forcing someone to someone to declare his / her religion. This is a violation of human rights. It is also not possible for the non-Muslim alcohol maker to distinguish between a Muslim and non-Muslim. This could make liable to be incriminated without her knowledge.
Generally speaking, I am totally against the incrimination of drinking alcohol. Such a thing is considered part and parcel of personal freedom. It is not acceptable at all to incriminate alcohol consumption based on someone's religious background. Such a thing would create a huge gap in the field of human rights and citizenship rights.
Selling, buying, and making alcohol have been prohibited for non-Muslims as per the new amendments of articles 78 and 79 of the Sudanese criminal act. This amendment discriminates against the citizens of the country as it disregards equality based on citizenship. Therefore, the application thereof poses practical problems such as:
- When someone is arraigned before court for dealing with alcohol, there is no way to ascertain whether he/she is innocent of guilty unless his religion is revealed. But this act contravenes the freedom of conscience. It is also a flagrant violation to personal freedom as someone is forced to reveal his or conscience which is then used as a proof to incriminate him/her. The resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council (22/20 freedom of religion and belief) states clearly that the state has to ensure that no official documents are withheld from the individual on the grounds of religion or belief and that everyone has the right to refrain from disclosing information concerning their religious affiliation in such documents against their will.
Police might resort to a person's appearance and outside look to determine the religion of the person detained for drinking alcohol if he/she refused to disclose his/her religion. Such a thing led to flagrant violations to religious freedom in the Sudan for a long period of time.
On the other hand, the court cannot force someone to show his National Identification Number in order to determine his/her religion. According to the 1994's Law of Evidence; the Constitutional Document; and the International Pact on Civil and Political Rights (art. 14) , suspects cannot be compelled to be witness against themselves.
If, on its own, the court resorted to the civil registry to obtain the documents proving the accused’s religion, it would have violated the Human Rights Council resolution that prohibited stating religion in personal documents, let alone viewing it by another party.
- The alcohol seller cannot distinguish between Muslims and non-Muslims because religion is not stated in Sudanese ID cards. Therefore, one might find him/herself committing a crime of dealing with alcohol unintentionally. The argument stated above is also applicable to those selling alcohol as the International Human Rights Law does not allow forcing people to reveal their religion.
- Discrimination against people based on their religion as well as prohibiting dealing between the citizens in the same country base on their religion subverts efforts being exerted to bridge the gap in the field of citizenship and the non-discrimination based on this issue. The Sudanese Status Act prohibits marriage between a non-Muslim man and a Muslim woman. It however permits marriage between a Muslim man and a non-Muslim woman. This is very clear discrimination. Under these amendments, a non-Muslim woman might find herself liable for one-year imprisonment if she made alcohol for her Muslim husband. This is the worst kind of violation. In order to develop in the field of human rights and religious freedoms, we have to abolish restrictions on mixed marriage, not impose more restrictions.
Representing the accused
These issues are not that serious if compared with other gross violations, but they subvert the principle of citizenship and equality between people. Therefore, the victims - in most cases a woman selling alcohol- could be visited in prison to take their data in order to defend them in court. These types of crimes are quickly dealt with if the accused pledged not guilty and the trial normally takes very short time, and the accused denies the right to have a lawyer in many cases if they are not aware of their right. This means the lawyer should make sure their client aware of their right, and be prepared and ready for the trial. In the court convicted the client, the lawyer has to ask for the decision immediately for the purpose of appealing it, for in many cases, courts issue one decision for more than one convicted.