After nearly eight months of legal limbo, a Sudanese court has finally seen three detained Christian leaders, while charges against them remain officially “unknown”.
Hassan Abduraheem Taour and Kuwa Shamal, both Sudan Church of Christ (SCC) pastors, and Abdulmonem Abdumawla Issa Abdumawla, appeared at the Bahri Criminal Court for a pro-forma hearing after the prosecutor sent their case on 4 August, said Middle East Concern (MEC).
The date for the next hearing is 14 August; earlier the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) indicated they will be prosecuted for “crimes against the state”.
Their diet was poor and their health has suffered.
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.
Meanwhile, authorities on 1 August notified three churches of demolition within 72 hours
The churches, including the Baptist church and the SCC in the Hajj Yousef area of Khartoum, “are resisting the scheduled demolition through the courts”, reported MEC. (Both these two denominations have been meeting in the area since the early 1990s).
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.
Before their recent move to the nearby Omdurman prison, the pastors had expressed concern about their safety in police holding cells normally used to detain criminal suspects for up to 10 days.
A lawyer involved in the case told Christian Solidarity Worldwide that they were held in a small room, where sometimes up to 25 men are also detained. “Their diet was poor and their health has suffered,” the lawyer added.
CSW reported that Kuwa had contracted malaria, and despite requests to the prosecutor for medical attention, he only received treatment after his church paid for it. Doctors also found he was suffering from a blood infection caused by poor diet.
The ordeal for the men started mid-December. On 17 December, authorities detained Abdumawla. The next day, Taour and Shamal were detained. Shamal was released after three days, but re-arrested on 24 May.
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’s Arab Islamic regime.
Back in May this year, even before Shamal’s re-arrest, sources reported that Taour would face several serious charges relating to “undermining national security”, charges Sudan has previously used after prolonged detentions of Christians.
Taour, Shamal and Abdumawla were detained and investigated by the NISS, but their case was only handed to the General Prosecutor’s office in May.
Following the secession of the majority-Christian South Sudan in 2011, the ICC-wanted President Bashir made it clear that Sudan is an Islamic state governed by Sharia. Since then, pressures have been ratcheted up against Christians.
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.
On 25 May 2016, the government of Sudan bombed St. Vincent Ferrer Primary School in the Nuba Mountains, in what was described as an example of a “grave violation of human rights”.
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.