Sudan’s Deputy Chief Justice caused alarm among human rights campaigners last week when he announced at a press briefing that Sudanese judges may receive special training to perform amputations on convicts should doctors refuse to do so.
The pronouncement comes a month after doctors at al-Rhibat hospital in Khartoum followed a court order to amputate the right hand and left foot of 30-year-old Adam al-Mutha, who was found guilty of an armed robbery in 2006.
Mutha’s conviction of armed robbery falls under article 167 of the 1991 Sudanese Penal Code – a sentence that he attempted unsuccessfully to appeal through higher courts, including the constitutional court.
His punishment was met with condemnation from both within Sudan as well as from international human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights. The Sudanese Doctors Union, a campaign group based in the U.K., has reportedly also sent a letter to the Sudanese Medical council stating that the amputation was against the ethics of the medical profession.
It is against this criticism that the Deputy Chief Justice Abdul Rahman Sharfi made his controversial comments regarding training judges to carry out amputations. “We cherish the book of Allah and not the Hippocratic Oath,” he said of the judiciary. Sharfi also suggested that doctors who refused to carry out such punishments could themselves face prosecution.
Sudan’s President Omar al Bashir has recently affirmed that he wishes to make the country a ‘hundred percent’ Islamic state, noting that doctors should have no shame in implementing Shar’ia law. He added that more than 16 cases of similar amputations had been carried out since 2001.
Amnesty International believes that Sharfi’s comments suggest that the punishment of amputation may be more pervasive, or at least underreported, than first believed. It was initially thought that Mutha’s amputation in February was the first documented case since 2002.
Sudanese lawyer Kamal al-Jazouli, in an interview with Reuters, claimed that the government is once more using amputations as a tool to silence people over issues such as corruption and rising inflation: “They want to instill fear in people,” he said. “How can you punish a thief in such a draconian way in a poor country like Sudan?”
Speaking with TIME, Amnesty International Sudan researcherJean-Baptiste Gallopin suggests that Sharfi’s remarks, coupled with President Bashir’s commitment to Islamic lawm suggest that Sudanese authorities “have the intent to enforce these kinds of punishments more systematically.”