The country’s legislation has been based on shariah since 1983. Apostasy is a capital offence punishable by death but this law has never been codified and there have been no reports of official executions of converts.
There is no written clause or legislation regarding apostasy, but the fact that the country seeks to follow traditional Islamic jurisprudence through sharia courts automatically makes apostasy a criminal act punishable by death.
Children born to Muslim fathers are by law deemed Muslim, and conversion from Islam to another religion is considered apostasy.
According to his lawyer, the original trial judge was replaced by another judge who had previously advocated that Badawi be punished for apostasy. His lawyer has contested the judge’s impartiality in the case.
The charges against Badawi relate to a number of articles, including one he wrote about Valentine’s Day, the celebration of which is prohibited in Saudi Arabia.
On 22th December the General Court in Jeddah had Raif Badawi, age 25, signdocuments that permitted his trial on apostasy charges to go ahead, after his case had been passed on by a District Court on 17th December.
Badawi was first detained on apostasy charges in 2008 but was released after a day of questioning. The government banned him from leaving the country and froze his bank accounts in 2009. The family of Badawi’s wife subsequently filed a court action to forcibly divorce the couple on grounds of Badawi’s alleged apostasy.
On 24th December 2012, Saudi novelist and political analyst Turki al-Hamad was arrested after a series of tweets on religion and other topics. The arrest was ordered by Saudi Interior Minister Prince Muhammad bin Nayef bin Abdel Aziz, who was tipped off by a religious organisation that alleged insults to Islam he had made on Twitter. However, the official charges against al-Hamad were not immediately announced.
The posted comments had attacked radical Islamists he said were twisting the Prophet Mohammed’s ‘message of love’ and described as ‘a neo-Nazism which is on the rise in the Arab world – Islamic extremism’.
The postings provoked fierce debate on social networking sites in Saudi Arabia between his supporters and detractors.
No executions on the grounds of apostasy have been reported of late.
Somalia is fragmented into regions administered in whole or in part by different entities, including the central authority Transitional Federal Government (TFG), based in Mogadishu; the semi-autonomous region of Puntland in the northeast, aligned with the TFG; and the self-declared independent Republic of Somaliland in the northwest.
The central and southern regions, including the capital of Mogadishu, have been struggling against Islamist militias since 2006. These militias have gained control of large portions of the country, where they have assumed governing and judicial authority. The major militias – al-Shabaab, Hizbul Islam and Ahlu sunna Waljam’a – follow a strict interpretation of Islam and impose sharia law on the areas they control. Human Rights Watch stated that al-Shabaab rules the region with a ‘draconian interpretation which goes well beyond its traditional application in Somalia. Many of the measures used by the al-Shabaab and justified in the name of sharia contravene regional and international human rights standards.’
Somaliland and Puntland have their own constitutions, which provide some protection for religious freedom, although both prohibit apostasy and the propagation of religions other than Islam. The prohibition on apostasy has also been interpreted to mean that conversion from Islam to other religions was prohibited.
The Puntland constitution, which was approved by parliament in 2009 and adopted by a constituent assembly on April 18, states that no one can be forced to a faith different from one’s own beliefs. However, it also states that Muslims cannot commit apostasy (renounce their religion) and prohibits propagation of any religion other than Islam. This section of the Puntland constitution also is interpreted to mean that conversion from Islam to other religions is prohibited.
The Somaliland constitution states that it protects the right of freedom of belief. However, it also states that Islamic law does not accept that a Muslim person can renounce his or her beliefs (apostasy) and prohibits the promotion of any religion other than Islam. This section of the Somaliland constitution also is interpreted to mean that conversion from Islam to other religions is prohibited.
The Somali Penal Code, which applies to all regions of the country, although not always enforced, does not prohibit conversion from Islam.
In 2008 an Al Shabab video swept the internet portraying the brutal beheading of 25-year-old aid worker Mansour Mohammed. His crime was simply his conversion from Islam to Christianity.
On 2nd January 2012, al Shabaab militia claimed responsibility for the murder of Zakaria Hussein Omar, age 26, in Cee-carfiid village, about 15 kilometers (nine miles) outside of the Somali capital. Omar had worked for a Christian humanitarian organization that al Shabaab banned in 2011.
His body was left lying for 20 hours before nomads found it and carried it into Mogadishu, a close friend said.
Omar converted to Christianity seven years earlier while in Ethiopia, where he lived with relatives. He returned to Somalia in 2008 and completed his university education in 2009 with a degree in accounting.
On 2nd September 2011, Juma Nuradin Kamil, a Christian convert from Islam who had been kidnapped on 21st August by al Shabaab militiamen, was found decapitated on the outskirts of Hudur City in Bakool region, in southwestern Somalia.
With estimates of al Shabaab’s size ranging from 3 000 to 7 000, the insurgents seek to impose a strict version of sharia, but the transitional government in Mogadishu fighting to retain control of the country, treats Christians little better than the al Shabaab extremists do. While proclaiming himself a moderate, President Sheikh Sharif Sheik Ahmed has embraced a version of sharia that mandates the death penalty for those who leave Islam.
Converting from Islam to another religion is punishable under the law by imprisonment or death, but there is no penalty for converting from another religion to Islam. A person convicted of conversion is given the opportunity to recant his or her conversion before capital punishment is carried out.
Article 126 of the Sudanese Penal Code of 1991 stipulates:
“‘Every Muslim who advocates the renunciation of the creed of Islam, or who publicly declares his renouncement thereof by an express statement or conclusive act, shall be deemed to commit the offence of apostasy.
Whoever commits apostasy shall be given a chance to repent during a period to be determined by the court; if he persists in his apostasy, and is not a recent convert to Islam, he shall be punished with death.
The penalty provided for apostasy shall be remitted whenever the apostate recants his apostasy before execution.”
Even though the 1991 Penal Code remains in use, Article 38 of the Interim National Constitution, which came into force in 2005, includes the provision that ‘no person shall be coerced to adopt such faith that he/she does not believe in, nor to practice rites or services to which he/she does not voluntarily consent.’
Under the government’s interpretation of Islamic law, a Muslim man may marry a Christian or Jewish woman, but a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim unless he converts to Islam.
Under Islamic law as applied in Yemen, the conversion of a Muslim to another religion is considered apostasy, which is a capital offense, although one that is rarely enforced.
The government imposes restrictions on conversion from Islam. Under sharia law, the conversion of a Muslim to another religion is considered apostasy, which the government interprets as a crime punishable by death. In recent years, the police in Yemen have arrested people for apostasy. Those arrested are only released if they renounce their new faith and vow to embrace Islam again.
There is no commensurate law pertaining to conversion under Yemeni civil law.
Countries providing for civil death
There are no laws that stipulate the death penalty for apostates, but the Prosecutor-General has the right to punish an apostate with ‘civil death’ on the basis of several laws that negatively affect the personal status of converts from Islam. These include the risk of having one’s marriage annulled, losing rights over one’s children and other such actions.
In 1995, the Court of Cassation set case law precedent when it ruled that ‘the invalidity of the marriage of a female Muslim apostate, if she gets married after apostasy to a non-Muslim and separation, is enforceable… and the impermissibility of changing the name or religion status of the apostate in the identity card information… a woman apostate does not originally have the right to marry either a Muslim or a non-Muslim; she is considered dead, and the dead is not subject to marriage.’
The same ruling also disqualifies a female apostate from family inheritance in accordance with Law No. 77 of 1943.
The government interprets sharia as forbidding Muslims from converting to another religion. Although there are no statutory prohibitions on conversion, thegovernment does not recognize conversions to Christianity or other religions of citizens born as Muslims. This policy, along with the refusal of local officials to legally recognize such conversions, constitutes a prohibition in practice.
In January 2008 the Cairo Administrative Court ruled that freedom to convert does not extend to Muslim citizens. The court stated that the freedom to practice religious rites is subject to limits, especially those entailed by the maintenance of public order, public morals and conformity to the provisions and principles of Islam, which forbid Muslims to convert. The court stated that ‘public order’ is defined as the official religion being Islam, that most of the population professes Islam and that Islamic law is the primary source of legislation. The ruling is not binding in other courts.
Jordan has no codified law on apostasy. Neither the constitution nor the penal code nor civil legislation bans conversion from Islam or efforts to proselytize Muslims. While the government freely allows conversion to Islam and from one recognized non-Islamic faith to another, it prohibits conversion from Islam in that it accords primacy to Islamic law, which governs Muslims’ personal status and prohibits them from converting.
As the government does not allow conversion from Islam, it also does not recognize converts from Islam as falling under the jurisdiction of their new religious community’s laws in matters of personal status; rather, converts from Islam are still considered Muslims. In general under Islamic law, these converts are regarded as apostates, and any member of society may file an apostasy complaint against them. In cases decided by an Islamic law court, judges have annulled converts’ marriages, transferred child custody to a non-parent Muslim family member, denied inheritance rights, conveyed an individual’s property rights to Muslim family members, removed individuals from official records and confiscated their identity cards, leaving them without any rights. In this way, even though apostasy is not a codified ‘crime’ in Jordan, a convert from Islam faces the risk of ‘civil death’.
Other states also have some problematic legislation or jurisprudence or practices dealing with the right to change religion, such as Comoros, Kuwait, Maldives and the United Arab Emirates.
Main sources of information
* Database of Human Rights Without Frontiers
* No Place of Call Home. Experiences of Apostates from Islam, by Christian Solidarity Worldwide
* Universal Periodic Review material at http://www.upr-info.org
* US Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom