Sudan has detained three church leaders and three church members, meanwhile warning five churches of impending demolition.
The six, from the Evangelical Church in Wad Medani (200km southeast of the capital, Khartoum), were briefly arrested on Sunday (9 Oct.) after refusing an order to hand over to the government a church-run school.
“They were released on bail later the same day. It is not clear if further legal action is planned,” sources told World Watch Monitor, on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, five churches have received notifications that their buildings will be demolished.
Three belong to the Sudan Church of Christ (SCOC), one to the Presbyterian Church and the other to the Episcopal Church in Sudan. They are situated in the Bahri, Soba and Jebel Aulia areas of Khartoum.
Authorities did not reveal the exact dates the demolitions would take place, but church leaders were apparently told their land had been “assigned for investment”.
The latest orders trail several actions against the country’s minority Christians (5% of the population) and their institutions. Since the National Islamic Front took power by military coup in 1989, Sudan has witnessed a significant clampdown on religious freedom, the Sudan Democracy First Group (SDFG) said in a report in March. The group warned that this policy is creating space for the growth of radical extremist groups, pointing to a number of incidents that it says confirms the ongoing suppression of religious freedom in the country.
Since that report, two pastors were accused of “crimes against the state” at a hearing in Khartoum on 26 September.
The charges against SCOC pastors Hassan Taour and Kuwa Shamal, as well as Czech aid worker Petr Jasek and Darfuri graduate Abdulmonem Abdumawla, could lead to the death penalty.
During an earlier hearing in August, Taour and Shamal – both originally from the beleaguered ethnic Nuba group, who live in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan near the border with South Sudan – were accused of highlighting Christian suffering there. (For instance, in May, Khartoum bombed St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic School in Kauda there, the latest in bombings of the Nuba area that have gone on for years.)
Held between Dec. 2015 and early August this year – most of the time without charge – the four men are due to appear in court again on 17 Oct.
“There is no freedom for us. We are treated as second-class citizens.”
A resolution was submitted last week to the European Parliament, highlighting the case of Jasek and his fellow defendants, signed by several hundred MEPs.
It noted that “the Sudanese authorities impose severe restrictions on freedom of religion; whereas threats against church leaders and the intimidation of Christian communities have continued at an accelerated pace over the past years; whereas Czech Christian aid worker Petr Jašek, Sudanese pastors Hassan Abduraheem Kodi Taour, Kuwa Shamal and Darfuri graduate student Abdulmonem Abdumawla Issa Abdumawla have been detained for nine months already by the NISS [National Intelligence Security Services] and are facing trial on charges of highlighting alleged Christian suffering in war-ravaged areas of Sudan; whereas in recent years there has been an increase in trials on charges of apostasy and subsequent death sentences”.
It “calls on the African Union and the Sudanese Government to … abolish the death penalty and reaffirm that freedom of religion, conscience or belief is a universal human right that needs to be protected everywhere and for everyone; and demands that the Sudanese Government repeal any legal provisions that penalise or discriminate against individuals for their religious beliefs, especially in the case of apostasy”.
It also “expresses its concern with regard to the increased crackdown by the NISS on citizens who are civil society activists and calls on Sudan to release detainees immediately and unconditionally”.
Other sources report to World Watch Monitor that Taour and Shamal are both suffering from ill health.
Timeline of events
Last month, the former Bishop of Kadugli Diocese in South Kordofan was quoted as saying the government of Sudan was “not interested in the Christian religion”. Rev. Andudu Adam Elnail said, “There is no freedom for us, we cannot build churches. We are treated as second-class citizens.”
On 10 July, a court in Khartoum North charged five Christians over attempting to stop an illegal acquisition of church property.
In February, Sudan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs ordered refugee churches in Khartoum to “register” or face closure.
In October 2015, an Evangelical church was demolished in Omdurman, just west of Khartoum, at only 72 hours’ notice; it had been there for over 30 years. Another church, a Lutheran one, was burned down in Gadaref, in the eastern part of the country.
In August 2015, the Sudan government was forced to release two South Sudanese pastors, whom it had accused of “spying”, after international attention on the case. Yat Michael and Peter Yen were in prison for eight and seven months respectively.
Mariam Ibrahim, a Sudanese Christian, was accused of apostasy and adultery, before being released in June 2014 after mounting global pressure.
The Sudanese minister of religious affairs had announced in April 2013 that no licenses would be granted to allow for building new churches.
Following South Sudan’s independence in 2011, President Omar al-Bashir – wanted by the ICC for crimes including “genocide” – has reasserted Sudan as an Islamic state governed by Sharia. Pressure has been ratcheted up against Christians, including in South Kordofan’s Nuba Mountains.
According to Open Doors’ 2016 World Watch List, Sudan is ranked 8th in a list of 50 countries where Christians come under the most pressure. The country has a rating of “extreme” and for the past two years has remained among the top 10 offenders.