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U.S. and Sudanese diplomats discuss religious freedoms

August 4, 2015 (KHARTOUM) - U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom, David N. Saperstein, Wednesday discussed with Sudanese officials at the foreign ministry the situation of religious freedom and raised pressing issues facing the Non-Muslims in Sudan.

Ambassador David N. Saperstein (Photo State Dept)

Since 1999, Sudan is on the U.S. State Department list of "countries of particular concern" as the government of president Omer al-Bashir is accused of severe violations of religious freedoms.

"For more than 20 years, the 1991 Criminal Code, the 1991 Personal Status Law of Muslims, and state-level “public order” laws have restricted religious freedom for all Sudanese" said the annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released on April 30, 2015.

In a meeting the foreign ministry under-secretary Abdel-Gani al-Naeim, Saperstein discussed some practices that contradict Sudan’s constitution and international conventions on freedom of religion human rights such as death sentences for apostasy, stoning for adultery, prison sentences for blasphemy, and floggings for offences of honour, reputation and public morality.

Al-Naeim said that the interim constitution of 2005 does not define the religion of the Sudanese state adding that the application of the Islamic legislation Sharia represents the desire of "the majority" of the population.

He further pointed out that reports published in the West about the religious freedoms in Sudan are not balanced and include a lot of unwarranted hostility against the country.

However ,the diplomat expressed Sudan’s willingness to engage in discussions with the United States on the issues raised by the visiting ambassador. Also he called for the lift of economic sanctions imposed on the country, saying that it affects Muslims and Christians alike.

The foreign ministry spokesperson Ali al-Sadiq denied in separate statements that the meeting discussed the case of the two south Sudanese pastors accused of espionage.

Al-Sadiq further said the meeting tackled religious freedom and the desire of the U.S. administration to cooperate with the government on its religious annual reports.

The USCIRF in its latest report recommended that the "normalization of relations with Sudan and any lifting of U.S. sanctions must be preceded by demonstrated, concrete progress on religious freedoms.

It called to create a Commission on the Rights of Non-Muslims to ensure and advocate religious freedom protections for non-Muslims in Sudan. Also it called to issue a decree ending the use of corporal punishments for hudood offences that violate “public order” as enumerated in the 1991 Criminal Code Act and state-level public order laws.