KHARTOUM, Sudan (BP) — A Christian church in Sudan has won a four-year court battle to prevent the Sudanese government from forcibly taking the church’s property and giving it to Muslim investors, Morning Star News has reported.
The Administrative Court of Appeal ruled the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowments interfered with church matters when it appointed committees charged with turning over to Muslim investors the property of Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church in North Khartoum, Morning Star News reported Sept. 16.
The Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) has been subject to arrests and demolition of its property during the lengthy attempted takeover. Two South Sudanese pastors had been jailed since December 2014 and January respectively, charged with capital crimes because they supported the congregation’s fight to retain its property.
Yat Michael, 49, and 36-year-old Peter Yein Reith, both of whom have been released, could have been sentenced to death or whipping had they been convicted of the serious charges concocted against them by Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS). They were convicted of lesser charges on Aug. 5 and released on time served. They and their families have since relocated to a third country to protect them from Islamist retaliation.
Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church and SPEC leaders told Morning Star News they consider the Aug. 31 court ruling a step in the right direction toward ending all attempts to hand over their property to Muslim investors.
“Things are working well for us; thank God for all your prayers for the church,” said SPEC Treasurer George Adam.
The Rev. Yahya Abdelrahim Nalu, a senior SPEC leader, described the ruling as a great victory for the church. Whether the government will try to appeal has remained unclear, though church leaders said the ruling was final.
The ruling nullifies three committees the Islamist government imposed on the church. The seven-page decision described the actions of the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowment as illegal and mere interference in SPEC affairs.
“The ministry has no right to interfere into the matters of SPEC,” according to the ruling.
The court cited the fact that SPEC has its own constitution and leadership structure to govern its activities, and that no entity should interfere in its internal affairs.
Whether there would be reparations for demolitions that took place in the church compound based on government-secured court orders remained unclear. Riot police seized the property by force in February, and on Nov. 17-18, 2014, a bulldozer accompanied by security personnel and police knocked down a wall of the church and homes in the church compound. Christians formed a human barrier to face down further demolition attempts on Nov. 19-20, 2014.
One of the homes destroyed in the compound belonged to Nile Theological College; a Christian doctor had rented it, and he lost all his belongings, sources said.
The bulldozer, accompanied by NISS personnel and police, carried out the demolitions based on a court order demanding that church leaders surrender the premises to Muslim investors. The church committee of members that the Sudanese government interposed made a secret agreement with the investors to sell the church property as part of Sudan’s campaign to do away with Christianity in the country, church leaders told Morning Star News.
Police in North Khartoum on Dec. 2, 2014 beat and arrested 38 Christians from the church, fined most of them and released them later that night. On Oct. 5, 2013, Sudan’s police and security forces broke through the church fence, beat Christians in the compound, arresting some of them and releasing them later that day.
Harassment, arrests and persecution of Christians have intensified since the secession of South Sudan in July 2011, when President Omar al-Bashir vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia Islamic law and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language. The Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced in April 2013 that no licenses would be granted for building new churches in Sudan, citing a decrease in the South Sudanese population.
Since 2012, Sudan has expelled foreign Christians and bulldozed church buildings on the pretext that they belonged to South Sudanese. Besides raiding Christian bookstores and arresting Christians, authorities threatened to kill South Sudanese Christians who do not leave or cooperate with them in their effort to find other Christians.
Due to its treatment of Christians and other human rights violations, Sudan has been designated a Country of Particular Concern by the U.S. State Department since 1999, and in its 2015 report the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended 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.