The Condom Divide in Sudan

Islamists and secularists are virtually at war in Sudan over a recent newspaper article on the condom usage and the concept of the faithfulness among couples.

And the author of the article, Ms Shamail Alnour, is in deep trouble. Radical Islamists, led by cleric Mohamed Ali Al-Gizoli, want her charged with apostasy. The crime is punishable by a death sentence in Sudan.

Ms Alnour’s article had explained how condom use could help stem the rising cases of HIV/Aids infections in the predominantly Muslim state. Ms Alnour works for the Al-Tayar, a privately-owned daily newspaper.

Radical Sudanese Muslims are totally opposed to the distribution of condoms for protective sex, despite the fact that close to 80 per cent of the HIV/Aids infections in the country were through sexual intercourse.

On Ms Alnour’s defence are fellow journalists, human rights activists and the opposition parties.

Youth more vulnerable

Many were questioning the introduction of the religious discourse in the ideological, social and political issues among Muslims in general and Sudanese in particular.

Furthermore, questions were being raised about the impact of the Alnour discourse on the spread of HIV/Aids in Sudan.

Ms Alnour, in her article, called for the differentiation between the core Islamic values and the practices by the Islamic countries which have adopted the Sharia (Islamic law).

She said the Sudanese government had abandoned its commitment to provide healthcare to the citizens, yet invested heavily in the anti-condom campaign, thus making the youth more vulnerable to the HIV/Aids scourge.

Trial for apostasy

However, Mr Al-Gizoli, who is considered a jihadist leader and a proponent of the Islamic State (Daesh), called on his supporters to wage a campaign for Ms Alnour’s immediate trial.

In his recent Friday sermon, Mr Al-Gizoli strongly condemned Ms Alnour for her argument about the usage of the condom as a protection against the spread of the HIV/Aids.

“We will organise a wide campaign to bring this criminal to court for trial for apostasy,” Mr Al-Gizoli said.

He further directed his followers to commence a campaign against all the “secularists” in the country.

“Those secularists, including journalists, wants to sabotage our community but we will not allow them to do that, we will eradicate them peacefully,” he vowed.

Freedom of expression

On the other hand, journalists, civil society organisations and the opposition political parties have vowed to protect the Sudanese journalists and the freedom of expression in the country. Sudanese Journalists Network (SJN) condemned the accusations levelled against Ms Alnour terming them a serious threat to the media in Sudan.

“The Sudanese Journalist Network expresses its deep concern over the threat to the journalists by the extremists and it will be closely monitoring the situation to protect the Sudanese journalists,” it said in statement on Friday.

“We consider this as a serious setback to the freedom of expression in the country and we call on the authorities to take its responsibility to protect the press and the journalists in the country,” it urged.

Hundreds of Sudanese human rights activists have organised a campaign of solidarity with Ms Alnour on the social media. They have called on the anti-government movements and activists to stand against the ‘terrorism’, accusing the security organs of being behind the intimidation of the journalists.

Terror campaign

The opposition political parties have equally condemned what they consider as a terror campaign against the freedom of expression in Sudan.

The Sudanese Congress Party, the Sudanese Communist Party and the National Umma Party were all unequivocal against their opposition to the campaign against Ms Alnour.

Lawyers have also been roped in. The Sudanese lawyers’ board for human rights condemned the accusations, vowing to raise a counter case against the Islamist leaders.

Rebel movements, including the SPLM-N, the Darfur-based Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement, have also thrown their weight behind the targeted journalist.

HIV/Aids prevalence

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Sudan has the highest rate of HIV/Aids prevalence in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), with about 56,000 people living with the deadly virus. The infected include 3,500 children and 2,300 pregnant women.

A joint survey conducted by the UN and the Sudanese Aids Combating Programme, under the Ministry of Health, showed a national HIV/Aids prevalence rate of 1.6 per cent. However, some regions had higher prevalence of about 4.4 per cent, among refugees, and 4 per cent among sex workers.

“Sexual transmission is the main mode of infection (79 per cent), followed by 5 per cent lack of universal precautions and blood safety, and mother-to-child transmission,” the survey showed.

“To prevent and control HIV/Aids transmission through sexual behaviour, it is important to encourage abstinence, discourage sex outside the marital boundaries and encourage traditional beliefs and practices that encourage the youth to get married.

“It is also important to raise the awareness regarding protected sex, including the use of condom and make condoms available for use,” the survey said.

Arguments have also been sparked about polio vaccination as a possible cause of HIV/Aids spread.

Radical Islamic leader Alsadig Abdullah Abdul Majid and his group have been campaigning against the vaccination organised WHO and the Ministry of Health, claiming the vaccines were imported from Israel, considered an enemy state.

The calls have negatively affected the vaccination campaign, despite the high rates of polio among the children in Sudan.