Village church in Goli, South Sudan. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
Village church in Goli, South Sudan. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Many of the Christians who fled Sudan after the South’s independence in 2011 have returned, even though the authorities continue to close churches and harass Christians there, a Catholic priest told The Economist.

Prayer centres that were closed have been reopened, Father Juma Charles of St Matthew’s Catholic Cathedral in Khartoum said. And there are still many Christian schools in the country, “most of whose pupils are Muslim”.

After South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan, a civil war broke out in 2013 and the world’s newest country became also one of its most fragile and troubled, causing half a million South Sudanese to cross the border back into Sudan.

This despite the fact that Sudan’s President, Omar al-Bashir, vowed to adopt a strict interpretation of Sharia (Islamic law) and in 2015 increased penalties for apostasy and blasphemy.

Muhanad Nur, a lawyer who defended a church leader and Darfuri activist jailed for “aiding and abetting” Czech Christian Petr Jašek in “spying”, said Christianity is “not welcome” in Sudan.

According to the 2017 Open Doors World Watch List, Sudan is the fifth most difficult country in the world to live in as a Christian.

‘Aggressive actions’

In recent months, World Watch Monitor has reported on the destruction of several churches in and around Khartoum, and the situation of the people of the Nuba Mountains, who have been the subject of “ethnic cleansing”, according to Open Doors.

President Bashir is also still wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity, including war crimes and “genocide” in the Darfur region.

Rights groups and US lawmakers urged the US government earlier this year not to lift 20 years of economic sanctions on the country because of its human rights records, but the trade embargo was ended in October.

During a visit to Russia last week, Bashir asked Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, for “protection from the US aggressive actions”, VoaNews reports.

According to the Sudan Tribune, Bashir also told Putin the US wanted to divide his country into five separate countries. “America took the world leadership and devastated the Arab world. [See] what happened in Afghanistan, what happened in Iraq, what happened in Syria, what happened in Yemen and what happened in Sudan,” he reportedly told the Russian government-controlled news agency, RIA Novosti.