Pastor at a training seminar held in 2012, Khartoum
Pastor at a training seminar held in 2012, Khartoum

Photo: World Watch Monitor

Fears are growing for the welfare of two South Sudanese church leaders who are being held in unknown locations by Sudan’s intelligence services.

Pastor Yat Michael and Pastor Peter Yen (also named as David Yein Reith in some reports) have now each been held for over a month after being arrested during visits to the country from their homes in South Sudan.

The two pastors are members of the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, and both were arrested while visiting Sudan’s capital, Khartoum.

While South Sudan has a largely Christian population, Sudan is predominantly Muslim. However, many thousands of Southern Sudanese who fled the long civil war to live in the north are now so rooted there, they chose to remain. There are still churches in the north to meet their needs, although some have come under pressure in recent months.

“The longer these two men are held in a secret location, the greater the risk of them being tortured,” said Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen.

“To date, absolutely no charge has been brought against these two church leaders.  The authorities in Sudan must reveal the location of these two men as soon as possible, and either charge them with a recognisable criminal offence or release them immediately,” she added.

Agents from Sudan’s National Intelligence Service cannot be prosecuted for what they do to a prisoner, so long as their actions are committed in the “course of their duty,” according to Amnesty International.

Taken into custody

Michael was taken into custody on Sunday 21 December after preaching that morning at a church in Khartoum.  After the service several men who identified themselves as Sudanese government security officers demanded that Michael went with them and took him away without giving further explanation. The next day the security forces went to Michael’s temporary home and took some of his clothes and personal belongings. They informed his wife that he was being held in relation to an ongoing investigation but did not reveal any further details, whether he was under arrest or what the charges were.

Michael and his wife had taken their child to Khartoum for medical attention but had been asked to preach at a church during their visit, sources told World Watch Monitor.

The second pastor, Yen, was arrested on 11 January after he delivered a letter to the Religious Affairs Office in Khartoum asking about his colleague Michael’s arrest in December. Michael’s wife had been trying unsuccessfully to find out where he is being held. Since Yen was also taken into custody his family has also had no contact with him.

Earlier in the day of Yen’s arrest, he had received a threatening phone call saying his wife and one-year-old son would be arrested if he did not return home, sources added.

Sudan ranks sixth in the 2015 World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face most persecution. Its almost two million Christians face strict laws imposed by an Islamic government, which has ruled that apostasy is still legally punishable by death. Sudanese who are seen as non-Arab are most vulnerable to being punished under the Apostasy law.

The government applies other restrictions targeting Christians. Support for the local church from Christians visiting from overseas is difficult because the government restricts the number of missionaries they let in by refusing work and travel visas. The number of expatriate Christians – such as those from South Sudan – has shrunk since 2013 when they were ordered to leave the country.

Despite the restrictions the church in Sudan is showing growth, according to World Watch List research. The Episcopalians, the Church of Christ in Sudan, as well as the movement to which the two missing pastors belong – the Presbyterians – have seen significant numbers turning to Christianity.