Leaders of the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) have been detained for some hours in the capital, Khartoum, during which they were ordered to hand over ownership of their church to government officials, by transferring authority from an elected committee to a state-sanctioned rival committee.
The five men, who, according to a World Watch Monitor source, included the SCOC President, were arrested as they left a church service on Sunday 22 October. They refused to hand over the leadership of their church and were released without charge later that day.
A group called the International Solidarity Campaign with Sudanese Christians (ISCSC) said in a statement that “Col. Nagmadeen Badradeen entered the Sudan Church of Christ church in Thawra, Area 29, Omdurman. He and a team of police interrupted the service, ordered the leaders to end the service and shut the church. They humiliated the pastors and then held them at a police station”. The same group named the five as Ayouba Telyan and Abdelbagi Tutu, Moderator and member respectively of the SCOC Council, the leader of the church in Thawra Ali el Hakim, Ambarator Hamad and Haibil Ibrahim”.
The SCOC represents about 220,000 of Sudan’s one million Christians, in over a thousand congregations.
This latest arrest follows pressure by the police on other members of the SCOC leadership to relinquish control of their Church.
On 22 September SCOC senior leader Mahjoub Abotrin was detained and interrogated after being arrested at his home in Omdurman, near Khartoum. It is thought he was released without charge after refusing the police demand.
On 2 September four members of SCOC’s senior leadership team (again, apparently including President/Moderator Ayoub Mattan, plus Head of Missions Kuwa Shamal, Abdul Bagin and Jemin Hassan) were told by the security forces to expect charges to be brought against them after they refused to hand over the Church’s office premises to a committee of government officials.
In May, before this latest clash with the authorities, SCOC risked writing an open letter of protest to the Sudanese government about what it called “the systematic violation of Christian religious freedoms”.
The letter from the Church denomination was distributed over social media and detailed the “hard conditions” it had faced in recent years. It specifically mentioned the confiscation of Church properties, as well as the demolition of churches, government failure to allocate land for construction of any new churches, and travel restrictions on senior church leaders.
The SCOC letter called 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, 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.”
The SCOC is not the only Church to face intimidation by the Sudanese government. In June, 25 churches from other denominations, including Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical, and Pentecostal churches, as well as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, were designated for demolition. The Sudanese authorities claimed they violated designated purposes for these plots of land.
The SCOC letter to the Sudanese government named specific departments for the “abusive procedures” against the Church in Sudan. “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 stated.
The SCOC’s current leadership term ends in March 2018 when the Church’s general assembly will appoint new leaders.