JUBA, South Sudan (BP) — Two South Sudanese Christian pastors released from prison Aug. 5 after eight months’ detention have been banned from leaving the country, Morning Star News reported. The two face no additional charges.
Yat Michael, 49, and Peter Yein Reith, 36, were preparing to board a plane Aug. 6 with their families when Khartoum International Airport authorities stopped them, according to one of the men’s attorneys. Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) ordered the ban when the pastors were initially detained — Yat on Dec. 14, 2014 and Reith on Jan. 11, 2015 — and gave the orders to the airport personnel, the attorney said.
A relative asked for prayer.
“They have been prohibited from leaving Khartoum,” the relative said, “but we are working now with their lawyer, and your prayers are very needed.”
The two men had been released after being acquitted of charges that could have garnered the death penalty, being convicted of lesser charges instead and given credit for time served. The attorney clarified that Reith was convicted of “establishing or participating in a criminal organization” (not “breaching the peace” as Morning Star News previously reported), while Michael was convicted of “disturbing public peace” (not “inciting hatred.”)
The pastors’ attorney asked the judge in their case to lift the ban, but was told to come back Aug. 9 to file a petition, according to Middle East Concern (MEC).
“However, the judge will only have jurisdiction if the travel ban was instituted by the prosecutor as part of the legal proceedings,” MEC advocates said in a statement. “If the travel ban was instigated by the Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Service, the judge will have no jurisdiction, and the lawyer will have to petition the NISS to have it lifted. This would be much more difficult.”
The two pastors lead South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church congregations. Michael had been arrested after encouraging Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church, which had been the subject of government harassment, arrests and demolition of part of its worship center as Muslim investors have tried to take it over. Police beat and arrested 38 Christians from the church on Dec. 2, 2014, and fined most of them, releasing them later that night. Reith had been arrested after submitting a letter from SSPEC leaders inquiring about the whereabouts of Michael.
The pastors had also been charged with spying, punishable by death, life imprisonment or prison and confiscation of property; undermining the constitutional system, punishable by death, life imprisonment, or imprisonment and confiscation of property; disclosure and obtaining information and official documents, punishable by two years in prison or a fine; blasphemy/insulting religious creeds, punishable by a year in prison, a fine or up to 40 lashes; and joint acts in execution of a criminal conspiracy. The defense had called for the charges to be dropped due to a critical lack of physical evidence.
Harassment, arrests and persecution of Christians have intensified since the secession of South Sudan in July 2011, when Bashir vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia Islamic law that would recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language. The Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced in April 2013 that no new licenses would be granted for building new churches in Sudan, citing a decrease in the South Sudanese population.
Sudan since 2012 has expelled foreign Christians and bulldozed church buildings on the pretext that they belonged to South Sudanese. Authorities have raided Christian bookstores, arrested Christians and threatened to kill any Christians who refused to help police capture others, Morning Star News has reported.
Due to Christian persecution and other human rights violations, Sudan has been designated a Country of Particular Concern by the U.S. State Department since 1999, and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended in its 2015 report that the country remain on the list.
Sudan ranked sixth on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2015 World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face most persecution, moving up from 11th place the previous year.