May 30, 2006 (KHARTOUM) — Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has decreed all women imprisoned for brewing illegal alcohol should be released, ending a vicious cycle affecting southern widows trying to feed their families in Khartoum.
In comments late on Monday the state minister of interior, from the former southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), said a presidential decree had been issued which meant that all the women would be free to go.
"(There is) a decree to release all women who have been convicted of making home-brewed alcohol — this is a decree ... made by the president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir," Aliyu Ayeeni Aliyu told reporters late on Monday night.
Sudan’s largest women’s prison in Omdurman holds between 800 to 1,100 inmates, mostly southerners who fled the north-south civil war to live in slums surrounding the capital Khartoum.
Women with as many as eight children, often widowed, make and sell home-brewed alcohol known locally as Aragi or Mireisse to feed their families.
Selling alcohol in Sudan is illegal under Islamic Sharia law, which was imposed in 1983 and was one of the catalysts for the war between the mostly Christian and animist south and the Islamist government in Khartoum.
Monday’s decision was a show of good faith between the former north-south foes who are now partners in government after signing a peace deal in 2005 to end Africa’s longest civil war, which claimed 2 million lives.
Under the deal sharia has been lifted in southern Sudan and a new constitution enshrines religious freedom throughout the country. But a commission to protect the rights of non-Muslims in the northern capital Khartoum has yet to be formed and many are still arrested for making alcohol.