Pulpit in the Al Gadaref Lutheran Church, eastern Sudan, following an arson attack in 2015. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Three churches in Sudan’s southern Blue Nile state, rebuilt after arson attacks in December, were burned down again in January, reports a Sudanese rights organisation.

On the evening of 28 December, the Sudan Internal Church, Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church in Bout town, near the border with South Sudan, were set alight, said the Human Rights and Development Organisation (HUDO). The incidents were reported to the police who, HUDO said, did not investigate further.

The three churches were restored with local materials, only to be set on fire again by unidentified arsonists on 16 January.

Minister of Religious Affairs Nasr al-Din Mufreh said that, contrary to HUDO’s report, the police are investigating. “If it is proven that it occurred as a result of a criminal offence, the perpetrators will be identified, pursued and brought to justice,” he said in a statement, reaffirming “Sudan’s full commitment to protecting religious freedoms and “houses of worship from any threats”.

Sudan’s Blue Nile and South Kordofan states are at the centre of an ongoing armed conflict between government forces and militants belonging to the Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM). Years of fighting has sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing their homes in the region where most of Sudan’s Christians live.

In a separate development, a Sudanese Christian businessman was arrested at Khartoum airport on 27 January as he returned from five years in exile, reports CSW. Ashraf Samir Mousad Obid fled the country in 2015 after a harassment campaign by the country’s former security service, the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). He was arrested despite having received a guarantee that he was free to travel. After a short time in detention he was released but was told not to leave the country.

Sudan is 7th on the 2020 Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.