After eight months of legal limbo, Sudan has finally accused two pastors of at least seven crimes, some punishable by death if proven.
Hassan Abduraheem Taour and Kuwa Shamal, both pastors of the beleaguered Sudan Church of Christ, “are accused of complicity to execute a criminal agreement and waging war against the state,” according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
The pastors were moved to Al-Huda Prison (Sudan’s Khartoum State) on 11 August. Originally it was believed the pastors had appeared in court on 14 Aug, but World Watch Monitor now understands that on the day of the hearing it was suddenly postponed until 21 August.
The two Christian ministers also face charges of espionage, calling for opposition of the public authority by violence or criminal force, and inciting hatred between classes, CSW added.
Rev. Taour had been detained without charge since 18 December, in contravention of Khartoum’s own law. Meanwhile, Rev. Shamal was detained on the same date, released, and then re-arrested again without charge on 24 May.
Among the host of other crimes the Christians are accused of are “propagation of false news articles, and entry and photography of military areas and equipment.”
The maximum sentence for waging war against the state (Article 51 of Sudan’s law) and espionage (Article 53) is the death penalty.
There has been no let-off by Sudan in its efforts to impose a unified Arab Islamic character over territories still under its government since the independence of the largely African Christian South in July 2011.
Arrests, confiscations and demolitions of churches have increased, and the government has stated repeatedly that new church licences will not be issued, leaving a number of congregations without a place of worship.
Earlier this month, Taour and Shamal, together with Darfuri graduate Abdulmonem Abdumawla Issa Abdumawla, first appeared in court for a hearing, after the country’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) indicated they will be prosecuted.
On 10 May, the NISS released another Evangelical church leader after nearly half a year in detention. Despite his release, the file of Telahoon (Telal) Nogosi Rata, 36, remains with the Attorney General, who could yet decide to press charges.
A number of other Christian leaders face restrictions, including Ayub Tilyab, Yagoub Naway (both also SCC pastors), Philemon Hassan, and Yamani Abraha of Khartoum El Izba Baptist Church – all have been alternately arrested, released, and then made subject to daily NISS reporting.
Both Taour and Shamal had earlier asked the authorities to either send their case to court or release them.
According to Sudanese law, 45 days from arrest a detainee should either appear before court or be released, a rule ignored in at least three of the recent Christian cases – those of Taour, Shamal and Rata.
Both Taour and Shamal are from the Nuba people group, native to a border region with the now independent South Sudan, and among groups resisting ethnic and religious rule from Khartoum.
Even before Shamal’s re-arrest, sources reported that Taour would face charges of “undermining national security,” charges Sudan has previously used after prolonged detentions of Christians.
In August 2015, Khartoum yielded to international pressure and released two South Sudanese pastors, whom it had accused of “spying”. Yat Michael and Peter Yen were in prison for eight and seven months, respectively.
Similarly, Mariam Ibrahim, a Sudanese Christian, was released in June 2014 after she was initially sentenced to death for apostasy and flogging for “adultery”.
According to Open Doors’ 2016 World Watch List, Sudan is ranked 8th in a list of 50 countries where Christians are under the most pressure. The country has a rating of “extreme” and for the past two years has remained among the top 10 offenders.