Q 5:33 is rendered, in Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s translation, “The punishment of those who wage war against God and His Apostle, and strive with might and main for mischief throughout the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land. That is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter.”
On February 14, Sudanese authorities carried out a “cross-amputation” against an accused highway robber named Adam al Muthna. According to Human Rights Watch, “Muthna was convicted of armed robbery (Haraba) under article 167 of the 1991 Sudanese Penal Code in relation to an armed attack on a truck carrying passengers between North Kordofan and East Darfur in March 2006.” HRW adds,
Article 168(b) of the Sudanese Penal Code provides cross amputation as a penalty for armed robbery when it results in grievous injury or involves the robbery of property equivalent to an amount decreed by the judiciary, currently set at 1500 Sudanese Pounds (approximately US$ 340).
Amputation as a form of corporal punishment was incorporated into Sudanese law in 1983 when then-President Gaffar Nimeiry introduced Islamic reforms known as the “September laws.” Although sentences imposing amputations have been handed down under those laws, there are no known cases since 2001 in which such sentences have been carried out. Human rights groups had hoped this signaled a de facto moratorium on the practice.
Sudanese authorities have imposed stoning sentences and routinely order flogging penalties. Both penalties are forms of corporal punishment justified as Sharia (Islamic law). In 2012, two sentences of death by stoning for adultery were imposed on women but were overturned following an international outcry.
Reuters discusses some of the political context that helps explain why the “de facto moratorium” has ended. Some argue that the cross-amputation represents a move to claim religious legitimacy amid domestic dissent. (Diverse forms of dissent in recent years have included armed rebellion in Blue Nile and South Kordofan, an alleged coup attempt, street protests motivated by economic and political grievances, etc.) Reuters also points out that the government has consistently pledged deeper Islamization of society, government, and law since the run-up to South Sudan’s secession.
[The cross-amputation] followed a pledge by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to implement a “100%” Islamic constitution as a result of the secession in 2011 of the mainly non-Muslim south of Sudan.
Let’s flash back to December 2010:
Sudan’s president said the country would adopt an Islamic constitution if the south split away in a referendum due next month, in a speech on [19 December 2010] in which he also defended police filmed flogging a woman.
“If south Sudan secedes, we will change the constitution and at that time there will be no time to speak of diversity of culture and ethnicity,” President Omar Hassan al-Bashir told supporters at a rally in the eastern city of Gedaref.
“Sharia (Islamic law) and Islam will be the main source for the constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official language,” he said.
And to July 2012:
“We want to present a constitution that serves as a template to those around us. And our template is clear, a 100 percent Islamic constitution, without communism or secularism or Western (influences),” said Bashir [in a speech in Khartoum on 7 July 2012].
“And we tell non-Muslims, nothing will preserve your rights except for Islamic sharia because it is just,” he said.
Bashir, facing small-scale protests calling for him to step down, said a committee made up of “all parties, religious sects and Sufis” would be set up to draft a constitution.
That appeared to be a move to assuage resentment by other opposition parties – many of which are still dominated by Islamist figures – over Bashir’s reluctance to loosen the grip of the ruling National Congress Party.
He did not give a date for the new constitution.
As of last month, momentum toward a new constitution seemed to be growing.
I think the cross-amputation is a sign that the Bashir government’s statements and plans concerning deeper Islamization deserve to be taken seriously. It seems likely that there will be continued efforts by his government to design and carry out legislation based on the government’s reading of shari’a.
A few relevant resources:
- Sudan’s 1991 Penal Code (Arabic)
- An overview of the Sudanese legal system
- Sudan’s 2005 Interim National Constitution
- Amnesty’s statement on the 2012 stoning sentences, which includes more background on those cases