KHARTOUM, Sudan (BP) — A pastor and another Christian unjustly imprisoned in Sudan are free after presidential pardons, but their release came just days after the government destroyed the last Christian place to worship in Soba al Aradi, a suburb of the capital Khartoum.
The May 11 release of Sudan Church of Christ (SCOC) pastor Hassan Abdelrahim Tawor of Omdurman and Christian activist Abdulmonem Abdumawla of Darfur ended 10-year prison sentences the two had been serving since December, 2015. The men were wrongly accused of espionage, causing hatred among communities and spreading false information, Morning Star News reported.
In what is considered a systematic attack on Christian churches, the government on May 7 destroyed the Sudanese Church of Christ in Soba al Aradi. It’s the latest incident in a string of 12 churches the government has demolished in the community since 2011, Morning Star News reported May 8. The loss of the church established in 1989 and most recently used by three congregations leaves no place for Christians to worship in the town.
International religious liberty advocates, including Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Middle East Concern (MEC) and Jubilee Campaign, praised God for the release of Tawor and Abdumawla. The groups continue to advocate for Christians in Sudan who have been increasingly persecuted since the 2011 secession of South Sudan.
“We welcome the release of Reverend [Abdelrahim] and Mr. Abdumawla, and are pleased they are finally able to return to their families after 17 months in detention,” CSW chief executive Mervyn Thomas said. “However, their case highlights our profound concerns regarding the rule of law in Sudan and the politicization of the criminal justice system by the National Intelligence and Security Services, which pursued the case against them. We continue to call for the government to review and reform the powers of this body and to end the targeting of religious and ethnic minorities on spurious grounds.”
Freedom for the two ends a case that began in 2015 and involved two others who were previously released. SCOC head of missions Kwa (also spelled Kuwa) Shamaal and Czech aid worker Petr Jasek were both jailed on charges including espionage, waging war against the state and gathering false news information, as well as inciting hatred between classes. Shamaal was acquitted and released in January; Jasek received a presidential pardon in February.
The arrest of the four was related to their support of a financial campaign that raised $5,000 for the medical care of Darfur student Ali Omer, injured and burned during a student demonstration in 2013, CSW said. The government claimed the money was in reality support for rebel activity in the South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur regions.
In its campaign against Christian churches, Sudan ordered in June, 2016 the destruction of at least 25 churches, claiming they were built on government-owned land or land zoned for residential or other uses. Churches targeted include SCOC, Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Jehovah Witness and Pentecostal congregations. Similarly situated Muslim mosques are allowed to remain standing, Christians told Morning Star.
“There is a nearby mosque in the area where the (Soba al Aradi SCOC) church building was destroyed, but it was not demolished,” Morning Star anonymously quoted a source May 8. In late April, the Khartoum Bahri Administrative Court rejected a case brought jointly by the churches to have the demolition order overturned, CSW said.
On April 3, a member of the Bahri Evangelical Church was stabbed to death while peacefully demonstrating against government efforts to confiscate and sell the church and its school, according to reports. Younan Abdullah, an elder of the church that is part of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC), died of stab wounds, World Watch Monitor reported May 2. A second church member and stabbing victim survived.
On April 26, police and an armed mob occupied the church compound and school, including houses and offices, MEC reported April 27. During the takeover, police arrested and detained for 12 hours the wife and three young children of SPEC guard Azhari Tambra while he was away from home. The family’s belongings were destroyed and they were not allowed to return to their home, MEC said.
The religious freedom advocacy group Open Doors ranks Sudan fifth on its 2017 World Watch List of countries with the most severe Christian persecution. Sudan has been a U.S. State Department County of Particular Concern since 1999 because of its human rights violations and treatment of Christians.