This article is part of our Sudan Insider, a monthly publication providing news and analysis on Sudan’s biggest stories. Don’t miss other stories this month, on Sudan’s subsidy cuts, Nuba refugees caught in the South Sudan crisis, and increasing normalization between the West and Sudan.
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For nearly a year, Sudanese authorities have imprisoned two Sudanese pastors and a layman along with a faith-based aid worker from the Czech Republic on charges that could lead to the death penalty.
In December 2015, national security arrested two pastors from the Nuba Mountains, Rev. Kuwa Shemaal and Rev. Hassan Abdelraheem, aid worker Petr Jasek and a civil rights activist from Darfur, Abdelmoneim Abdelmoula. The court case finally commenced in August 2016. The four suspects face seven separate charges including espionage, waging war against the state and provoking hatred amongst sects.
In October, the state prosecutor presented video footage and photographs taken from Petr Jasek’s laptop as evidence. The prosecutor’s evidence included footage of the Nuba Mountains and the four suspects in Khartoum North assisting a student, Ali Omer, who suffers from skin burns inflicted by a teargas bomb thrown during a protest at Alzaiem Alazhari University in Khartoum North. The suspects’ defense commenced on November 7 and a hearing scheduled for November 14 was postponed after a large Christian congregation attempted to attend the hearing. The suspects are being held in Al-Huda Prison in Khartoum.
Rev. Kuwa Shemaal is no stranger to state intimidation. In June 2014, the state demolished his church, the Sudanese Church of Christ in Thiba Al Ahamida, Khartoum North, claiming the land was reserved for a private hospital. Authorities denied Rev. Shemaal’s request to continue worshiping at the church until the end of 2014. Land authorities also rejected land documents Rev. Shemaal presented, including receipts of fees paid for the church over thirty years ago.
Christian schools are also targeted. The National Ministry of Guidance and Endowments ordered armed police and civilians to take over the Evangelical Basic School in Jebel Aulia, south Khartoum in October. One of the best schools in the area, over 1,000 students were affected by the closure. Police detained Evangelical Basic School Headmaster Rev. Samuel Suleiman and Rev. Zakaria Ismail along with seven other school staff and local church members earlier in the month for refusing to submit the school to the government.
What it means…
The targeting of churches and Christians ratcheted up after South Sudan gained independence in 2011. Once the predominantly Christian South Sudanese populace seceded, considerable institutional support previously used to defend Christians against state authorities diminished in Sudan. Authorities have demolished at least six churches since South Sudan’s independence in 2011.
In April 2013, the Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced that no new licenses would be granted for building new churches in Sudan, citing a decrease in the South Sudanese population.
Religious freedom conditions in Sudan deteriorated further in 2015 as government officials stiffened penalties for apostasy and blasphemy and continued to arrest persons accused of apostasy and Christians.
More churches and church leaders may face challenges in the near future. In August, the Chief of Office for the Khartoum State Ministry of Planning issued a letter calling for the demolition of four churches in Khartoum. The officer accused the four churches, based in Al-Baraka, Al-Bashir, Arta Kamul and Dar el Salaam Jedidah of being built too close to “community areas.”
The current trial against the four Christians appears at loggerheads with the conclusions of the National Dialogue, a state-led peace initiative ostensibly designed to end Sudan’s internal conflicts. In October, the general conference of the National Dialogue concluded by issuing a National Document that is meant to serve as a basis for drafting a permanent constitution. The National Document makes at least four references calling for religious diversity, the freedom of worship and to end discrimination against anyone on religious grounds in Sudan.
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Cover Photo: Margie Nea (CC)