The Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) has written an open letter to the Khartoum government protesting “the systematic violation of Christian religious freedoms”, including the recent demolition of one of their churches in the Suba area of the capital, Khartoum.
The SCOC represents about 220,000 of about two million Christians in Sudan*, in over a thousand congregations.
“This is the boldest move the SCOC leadership has yet made against the constant pressure they have been facing from the government,” a worker closely involved in working with the Church in Sudan, who remains anonymous for security reasons, explains. “Over the past years they have complained against all violations of religious rights to all pertinent government bodies, but it is the first time such a letter is distributed on social media.”
In the letter, dated 16 May, the Headquarters of the SCOC detailed the “hard conditions” they have faced in recent years, including the demolition of churches, confiscation of church property, government failure to allocate land for construction of any new churches, and travel restrictions on senior church leaders.
“We feel deeply sorry and strongly condemn these abusive procedures against the holy places.”
Sudan Church of Christ
Their letter was sent only a day before the Sudan government demolished a SCOC building – in Algadisia, east Khartoum, since 1983. According to Middle East Concern, a para-Church charity which monitors Sudan, someone else had recently claimed ownership but refused to provide any proof. The authorities then demanded that the church vacate the land. Even when the church showed ownership documents the authorities refused to hear the case, stating they had orders to carry out the demolition. On 7 May, officials had already demolished the SCOC church in Suba, Al Aradi.
Apart from these two, 25 other churches – ranging from Catholic to Coptic Orthodox, the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Pentecostal Churches – have also been designated for demolition. The government claims they violate designated purposes for these plots of land.
“We feel deeply sorry and strongly condemn these abusive procedures against the holy places, and we hold the National Intelligence and Security Services [NISS] responsible for the damages and other consequences [that] can be caused due to their confiscation of documents. We also hold the land authorities of the Ministry of the Planning and Infrastructure Development of the Khartoum state responsible for the attacks against the Church and [for] the financial damages caused,” the letter states. It petitions the same Ministry to complete the registration of SCOC’s congregations in Suba and El Ezba.
It also calls on the presidency to allocate land to churches and to guarantee Christians their constitutional right to own land in all of Sudan’s states. It asks President Omar al-Bashir to order the NISS to return all arbitrarily-confiscated land ownership and travel documents and to prevent the NISS from any further violation of Christians’ rights.
The Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced in April 2013 that no new licenses would be granted to build new churches in the country, claiming there is no need for new church buildings because many mainly Christian South Sudanese refugees returned to their own country after the secession of South Sudan in 2011.
Authorities have also continued the gradual confiscation of properties belonging to the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church in Bahri (Khartoum North), which was demolished in April, and Omdurman.
The SCOC letter calls on national, regional and international human rights institutions to intervene on behalf of the Church in Sudan to ensure an end to the violations. The EU Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ján Figeľ, raised the issue of church demolitions in March during a visit to Sudan and was told some of the demolitions had been temporarily stopped.
In a letter to the new Minister of Religious Endowments, Mr. Figeľ wrote in May: “I am sure you would agree with me that these events generate tensions and go counter [to] the many efforts deployed by Sudan to preserve its capital of religious diversity.
“Regarding the ongoing confiscations of religious properties from Evangelical churches, I cordially encourage you in your new important assignment to ensure your Government’s full protection of the rightful legal church committees, as recognised by the respective religious leaders and the Supreme Court of the Republic of the Sudan. The past practice of appointing alternative committees has brought only confusion and suffering to the religious communities.
“I also raise your attention on the procedures relating to the construction of new churches. During my meeting with your predecessor, your services indicated that since 1989, nineteen new churches were built in Sudan. My impression, based on information received during and after my visit, is that the procedure to obtain a licence is yet not clear to many stakeholders and licences are difficult to obtain. I encourage you to share information on this procedure in order to avoid false perceptions and misunderstandings.”
Mr Figeľ confirmed to World Watch Monitor, at the European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance on 20 June, that he has so far received no reply to his letter.
After his March visit to Sudan, Figeľ’ reported that he had “reminded the authorities about the importance of upholding Freedom of Religion or Belief in the Constitution and recommended the construction of a civil state based on equal citizenship for all”. He added that he had stressed that “public life must be organised around citizenship, not religion” and “advocated for reform of the legal framework in order to ensure consistency with international agreements in the area of religious freedom”.
(*World Christian Database 2017)