Sudan: Sudan frees women and children jailed for selling alcohol

Sudan has freed over 1,000 women and children from the south who had been jailed in Khartoum for brewing and selling alcohol, a crime under north Sudan's Islamic sharia law, an official said on Sunday.
Sudan is working to soften the impact of sharia for southerners living in the capital under a 2005 peace deal to end decades of war between the government in the Muslim north and rebels from the largely Christian and animist south.
Joshua Dau Dew, chairman of the commission set up to protect the rights of non-Muslims in Khartoum, told Reuters that 847 women and 158 children had been released following the commission's request to the judiciary and chief justice.

Sharia was lifted from the semi-autonomous south under the peace deal, but it remained in place in Khartoum. Some 2 million southerners live in sprawling slums surrounding the capital.

Hundreds of southern, non-Muslim women have been arrested in Khartoum for brewing and selling alcohol to pay for food for their children. Their husbands are either dead, separated by the war or unable to find work. Often the women take their children with them to jail as they have no one else to look after them.

Last year, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir pardoned all the southern women in the jail, more than 90 percent of whom were imprisoned for selling alcohol. But a year later, the jail was full again.

Sudan's sharia law is incorporated into its criminal and penal code, meaning it applies to everyone in the capital. Dew said the chief justice had ordered the establishment of courts for non-Muslims in Khartoum, where he expected judges to be more lenient in the cases of brewing alcohol. Dew also said he had travelled to south Sudan to discuss with the semi-autonomous government there how to stop the women being rearrested. "There are two options. Either to transport them back to the south voluntarily or to make some intermediary arrangements to meet their immediate needs," he said.

The south will have a right to vote on secession by 2011.

By: Opheera McDoom

5 August 2007