Girl reading her Bible in Sudan where churches are under pressure to let go of their properties. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
The pressure on Sudanese churches has increased in recent years. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

New charges have been brought against four members of one of the country’s major Protestant denominations. Thirty-six others will appear in court next week on unspecified charges; five others have been acquitted.

Azhari Tambra, Mina Mata, George Adem and Kodi Abdulraheem were charged on 11 April with “causing physical harm to police and supporters of a Muslim businessman” when police and an armed mob attacked the Church’s premises, which includes houses and offices as well as the school, in April 2017. Their next hearing is due to take place on Monday, 23 April.

The charges are the latest development in a long-standing dispute between the Bahri Evangelical Church, which belongs to the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC), and a committee linked to the government, which wants to sell off the land on which the Church’s compound is situated.

The conflict began in 2013, when the Ministry of Guidance and Endowments authorised and charged an illegally convened land and buildings committee with the administration of the SPEC’s property.

Church leaders say this government-backed committee has been interfering with internal church matters and involved in selling off property to investors.

In February seven church leaders were arrested and fined when they protested the takeover of the school located on the Church’s compound in Omdurman, near the capital Khartoum.

World Watch Monitor reported on 2 May 2017 how, when the attackers entered the property, they raided the home of one of the accused, Azhari Tambra, and destroyed many of his belongings. He was not at home, but police arrested his wife and their three young children and held them for 12 hours.

A few weeks earlier, two church members had been stabbed when they attended a peaceful three-day protest against the government’s attempted appropriation of the Church’s school. One of the injured men, Younan Abdullah, an elder of Bahri Evangelical Church, later died of his injuries. The second church member, Ayoub Kumama, survived.

Five acquitted, 36 others to stand trial

On the same day the four were charged, charges against five other SPEC members – Yahaya Abdulraheem, Zakaria Ismail,  Idris Harris, Paulos Tutu, and Salim Hassan – were dropped for a lack of evidence.

However, next Thursday, 26 April, another 36 Christians are due to appear in court, facing charges that have not yet been published.

Sudan is fourth on the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.

The pressure on Sudanese churches has increased in recent years.

“[It] started shortly after the secession of now Southern Sudan from what is now northern Sudan”, Daniel Hoffman, Executive Director of Middle East Concern, told Mission Network News. “The government in northern Sudan had said if the south will secede, we will strongly Islamize the legislation and the practices of the government in the north. And since then, there indeed have been a number of pressures on the churches.”

A report published in December said the government uses a ‘divide and rule’ policy to exploit differences within and between communities and, among other things, “supports a group that rivals the official Church of Christ representative body”, resulting in attacks on leaders and destruction of property.