In response to concerns raised over its human rights record by the US embassy in Khartoum, Sudan has insisted that the country “enjoys religious freedom” and “unprecedented openness”, reports press agency AFP.
The US embassy’s comments came ahead of talks next week about the potential lifting of 20 years of economic sanctions on Sudan.
In response, Sudan’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday (1 July) released a statement, saying the country “enjoys religious freedom, which is exemplified with several churches existing adjacent to mosques”.
The statement added that there is “no religious discrimination” as Sudan receives thousands of refugees “without asking them about their religious beliefs or affiliations”.
It also said the country is “currently enjoying an unprecedented openness and political and partisan activity, where over 80 political parties enjoy political freedoms… Sudan’s press freedom is experienced by over thirty daily political newspapers […] reflecting different views including opposition and pro-government political newspapers.”
Sudan is number 174 (of 180 countries) on the 2017 World Press Freedom Index. According to Reporters Without Borders, “the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) hounds journalists and censors the print media by closing down newspapers […] or by confiscating entire issues as they come off the press”.
As World Watch Monitor reported in January, one of Barack Obama’s last acts in office was to scale back a 20-year-old trade embargo on Sudan, giving the government in Khartoum 180 days to show itself ready for sanctions to be lifted.
The move was criticised by human rights groups, which called it “premature” and “despicable”, as Sudan’s President, Omar al-Bashir, is still wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes including “genocide”.
Ahead of scheduled talks on 12 July, to coincide with the end of the 180 days, seven US-based organisations last week asked the US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, to take into account the situation of ethnic and religious minorities in Sudan.
World Watch Monitor has reported the recent 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 Christian charity Open Doors.
World Watch Monitor also spoke recently to Mariam Ibrahim, three years after she was freed from prison after narrowly escaping being hanged for “apostasy”, first having been lashed 100 times for “adultery”.
Sudan is No. 5 on the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to be a Christian.
Several pastors have faced trial for alleged actions against the state, including espionage and attempting to defame the government.
Sudan is also one of six countries whose citizen are subject to the new travel ban imposed by US President Donald Trump.