Sudan blocks party inspired by activist hanged for 'apostasy'

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir (L) and former president Jaafar al-Nimeiri (from 1971-1985) greet reporters during a joint press conference in Khartoum 2 March 2005. Photo: AFP PHOTO / SALAH OMAR
KHARTOUM - Sudanese authorities have refused to register a political party based on the ideas of a peaceful Muslim activist who was hanged for apostasy, his daughter said on Sunday.
Asma Mahmud Muhammad Taha had sought official permission to revive the Republican Party of Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, who was hanged on January 18, 1985 under the regime of former president Jaafar Nimeiri.
She said the Political Parties Affairs Council gave the party preliminary approval but then reversed its decision after hardline Islamists objected arguing that "these people are apostates".
The ruling came despite the Islamist government's talk of greater freedom for political parties in Sudan.
Mohammed Adam Ismail, secretary general of the Council, said the denial was based "on pure legal grounds", although some people had voiced objection to the Republicans.
"They didn't meet all the requirements," Ismail told AFP.
Although the Republicans lack official sanction, Asma Mahmud said they are carrying out their activities and have taken their case to the country's top Constitutional Court.
"We are going to have this right, no matter what," she said.
Before he was hanged, Taha had criticised Nimeiri's imposition of Islamic sharia law which included amputations and other harsh punishments.
Taha said the poor were being unfairly targeted. 
In 1986, following Nimeiri's overthrow, Sudan's top court annulled the entire case against Taha.
His message of a tolerant Islam and equality for all Sudanese has survived among a devoted and intellectual group of followers, led by his daughter.
Taha was the last person to be hanged for "apostasy" in Sudan, she said, calling "very unusual" the death sentence passed last Thursday against a Christian woman convicted of the same crime.
A judge in the Khartoum area sentenced Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, 27, to hang after she refused to recant.
The sentence came under sharia that outlaws conversions of faith on pain of death, and was accompanied by a penalty of 100 lashes for "adultery".
Britain described the sentence as "barbaric".
Rights activists said Ishag is pregnant and married to a Christian. She was raised a Christian by her mother after her Muslim father left the family, the activists said.
Asma Mahmud said Ishag's case points to the validity of her father's ideas.
"We cannot just drag the laws from the seventh century and apply them in the 20th and 21st centuries," she said.
The Citizen newspaper, in an editorial, said members of Ishag's family filed the court case "for other hidden purposes".
One of her lawyers said the sentence would be appealed.
Legal experts said the woman would be allowed to give birth and nurse her baby for two years before any death sentence is carried out.


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