Sudanese police arrested and detained seven church leaders in Omdurman, one of the major cities in Sudan on Wednesday 23 August for over six hours for refusing a takeover of the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) by a government appointed-committee. They were later released on bail.
Kuwa Shamaal, head of missions at the SCOC and the Rev Ayoub Mattan, the church’s moderator and four others were ordered to hand over the leadership of the church to a committee set up by the Sudan Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowments in a written letter dated 14 August.
The pastors however refused the unconstitutional and forceful takeover and immediately the ministry brought up a charge of ‘spying to inciting hatred against the Sudanese government.’
The government had brought up this same charge against Pastor Shamaal, arrested and detained him in December 2015 and was acquitted by a court in January this year. According to reports six other pastors have gone into hiding.
The harassment and detention of the church leaders came barely a month after the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to install the first Archbishop and Primate of the Province of Sudan and the meeting with the Sudanese President, Omer Al-Bashir who promised “to promote coexistence among all religions in the country and to guarantee religious freedom in order to achieve security and religious stability in the country.”
A Sudanese State Agency had quoted Al-Bashir saying, “The Christian churches or institutions have not been subjected to any aggression across history, which confirms that the Christian brothers in Sudan enjoy peace and live in love.”
At the beginning of August 2017 members of the Khartoum parliament rejected the order by the Minister of Education to force all Christian schools in the capital to open on Sundays. Deputy Speaker, Khartoum State Assembly, Mohammed Hashim, said the order had ‘not been well thought through.’
“The government’s decision to abolish Sundays for Christian schools is discrimination against Christians in Sudan,” a church leader said.
This follows a repression of the churches and the plan by the government to demolish the 27 churches for ‘violating’ the ‘designated purposes of the land they were built on.’ Reports say.
When the European Union Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ján Figeľ, visited Sudan in March this year, and raised the issue, the government said it had halted the demolitions. Soon after the visit at least two churches were demolished and a church worker who got in the way of the demolition was killed.
About 97 per cent of people in Sudan are Sunni Muslims. Christians live mostly around the Nuba mountains where they suffer government’s repression and persecution. The Al-Bashir government, in its effort to make the country completely Muslim has attacked and destroyed many Christian villages, killed pastors and threatened to wipe out all Christian schools.
Hassan John is West Africa Editor, Global Christian News and Priest of the Anglican Diocese of Jos
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