After more than three decades of strict Islamist rule, Sudan has scrapped its infamous apostasy law, meaning Muslims can leave their religion without fear of execution.
Announcing sweeping legislative changes, in a televised statement Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari said that the government plans to "drop all the laws violating the human rights in Sudan".
He added: "All these changes are aiming at achieving equality in front of the laws. We have dropped all the articles that had led to any kind of discrimination."
The apostasy law stipulated that any Muslim leaving the Islamic faith was guilty of a serious criminal offence. As a result, the law has greatly restricted Christian evangelism in Sudan over the years, with ministry workers often warned to refrain from trying to reach the majority-Muslim population with the gospel. Violence against Christians is common across Sudan, with Open Doors ranking the country at number seven on its World Watch List.
In addition to the apostasy repeal, the new reformist government also announced that public flogging will come to an end and consumption of alcohol by non-Muslims will be permitted.
Paul Robinson, the CEO of Release International, said: "This is excellent news and a significant move towards religious freedom in a country where Christians were routinely persecuted.
"When the regime was overthrown we saw a window of opportunity – a moment for change. Release called for full religious freedom to be restored to Sudan."
Under the leadership of former President Omar al-Bashir, Muslims who renounced their faith could face the death penalty. In 2014, Sudanese authorities sentenced Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag to death for marrying a Christian man. Ishag was eventually released on appeal after repeatedly refusing to turn her back on the Christian faith.
Robinson said that the recent change of heart amongst Sudanese legislators was nothing short of miraculous.
"The direction of travel in Sudan was towards ever-tighter Islamic law and restrictions on religious freedom," he said. "Today that direction of travel is being reversed. There is freedom in the air."
Robinson added: "Opposition is to be expected and there is the risk of a backlash by hard-liners. Pray that freedom will win the day and that Christians will have a stronger voice under the new administration. Please pray also that the government will return the many Christian and Church-owned properties that have been seized."
Noha Kassa, a deaconess at Khartoum’s Bahry Presbyterian Church, said: "I am very pleased, God has answered our prayers.
"I am excited for our ministry amid such changes.”