KHARTOUM, Sudan (BP) — A new power-sharing agreement to establish civilian rule in Sudan is potentially good news for persecuted Christians there, religious liberty watchdog International Christian Concern (ICC) said.
“This could very well be a historic change for the country of Sudan and for its suffering Christian population,” Nathan Johnson, ICC regional manager for Africa, said in a press release. “If the new constitution does not guarantee freedom of religion for all, removing sharia as the guiding force, I fear that Christians will continue to live under tyranny and persecution.”
Christians, long persecuted in Sudan, have suffered during months of protests to establish civilian rule after the April ouster of dictatorial President Omar al-Bashir, a Khartoum pastor told ICC.
“The civil protests have really affected the church socially, emotionally and financially,” ICC quoted the pastor who requested anonymity. “We have been tied for months because of the running battles, extrajudicial killings, failed peace talks, and many people, including our church members, must skip work due to instability.”
Christians comprise just 3 percent of the 43.1 million people in the mostly Muslim country, according to the State Department. Sharia law is enforced.
“In such an environment where Islam is the main religion, anger and retaliation always fall back to the churches,” ICC quoted the pastor. “Many churches have been forced to close down during Sunday worship as a sign of showing support for the unrest.”
The Sudanese Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the civilian Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) announced a deal Wednesday (July 17) aimed at establishing civilian rule in just over three years. According to Reuters, the TMC and FFC must sign a constitutional declaration to complete the deal. Signing the declaration had been expected Friday (July 19) but was postponed, the AFP French news outlet reported.
“We hope that this positive start will bring relative calm,” ICC quoted the pastor, “open an environment of coexistence between all the people of Sudan and a wider space of freedom of worship.”
Details of the new agreement vary among news reports. The deal establishes three authorities, according to Middle East Eye, including a sovereign council, a council of ministers and a legislative council. Key is the sovereign council, which will include five military members and five civilians.
According to ICC, a military leader will lead the sovereign council the first 21 months, and a civilian will lead the next 18 months leading to a national election. The strength of the sovereign council remains unclear, ICC said.
“Now that the deal has been signed, it is time for the people of Sudan to ensure that the freedoms that they are calling for guarantee freedom for all, and not just some,” Johnson said.
Contention has surrounded whether the military will be held accountable for as many as 128 civilian deaths in a June 3 massacre during mass protests. Military leaders put the massacre death toll at 61. According to Middle East Eye, both sides agreed to an investigation by an independent investigative committee.
The pastor expressed hope, the ICC said, that the church would “be allowed to evangelize freely in the urban streets and also in the countryside. Missionary work and Bible distribution have been greatly affected in the recent past. We are asking for more tolerance.”
Christian persecution is high in the country that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has described as a “country of particular concern” since 1999 under the International Religious Freedom Act.
A South Sudanese pastor in Clarkston, Ga., has told Baptist Press Sudan is ripe for the Gospel.
Abraham Deng, who helps lead a Sudanese congregation at Clarkston International Bible Church, told BP this month that he baptized three ladies who converted from Islam when he visited Sudan this past spring, where Deng’s family remains. He distributed 5,000 Bibles during the trip, he said.
Sudan’s population is 97 percent Muslim, primarily Sunni, with a range of Muslim minority groups and Sufi orders, according to State Department figures. Evangelicals are included among Christians that comprise 3 percent of the population, including Coptic, Greek, Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox; Roman Catholic; Anglican; Presbyterian; Pentecostal; Seventh-day Adventist; and Jehovah’s Witnesses.