While church properties were returned to the SCOC, other church bodies are also in conflict with the government over the ownership of their properties, like the SPEC in Bahri (Khartoum North) and Omdurman. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
The government confiscated the buildings two years ago. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

The Sudanese government has returned ownership of 19 properties to the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC), two years after it confiscated them.

The land-ownership documents were handed back on Monday (24 September), a local source told World Watch Monitor.

In August a Sudanese court ruled against the government and ordered that administration of properties be returned to the church body and that the case against five SCOC church leaders be dropped.

The surprise verdict followed a long-standing dispute between the government and SCOC over ownership of the denomination’s properties, after the Ministry of Religious Affairs set up a rival land and buildings committee and charged it with the administration of SCOC’s property.

The verdict coincided with Sudan pushing for the normalisation of bilateral relations with the US and its removal from the US’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. But rights groups have called on Washington to “put the brakes on” normalising relations, saying there has been little evidence of progress in the area of human rights.

Under Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, several church leaders have been harassed, interrogated and taken to court. In May 2017 the SCOC wrote an open letter of protest to the government about what it called “the systematic violation of Christian religious freedoms”.

Several other denominations, like the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC), are also in conflict with the government over ownership of properties, and have faced fines and the closure and destruction of church buildings.

In April World Watch Monitor reported that four members of a SPEC church in Bahri, just outside the capital Khartoum, were charged with “causing physical harm to police and supporters of a Muslim businessman” after police and an armed mob attacked the church’s premises, which includes houses, offices and a school, the year before.

In the same location one church member was killed during a protest against appropriation of the school.