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South Sudanese Pastor Jailed after Preaching at North Khartoum Church

South Sudanese Pastor Jailed after Preaching at North Khartoum Church

Security personnel in Sudan have held a pastor from South Sudan since Dec. 21 after he delivered a sermon at an embattled North Khartoum church.

Agents from Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) arrested the Rev. Yat Michael of the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church after Sunday worship concluded at Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church on Dec. 21, a source told Morning Star News. At press time he remained in jail without charges.

Police in North Khartoum on Dec. 2 beat, arrested and fined 38 Christians from the church after nearly two weeks of raiding and demolishing church property. They were released later that night.

Pastor Michael had been invited to encourage the congregation to stand firm amid persecution. Besides arrests, the North Khartoum church compound has been subject to demolition of buildings and part of its worship center as Muslim investors seek to take it over.

NISS is empowered to arrest Christians, South Sudanese and others considered undesirable in the Islamist state without charging them with any crime. After church leaders had given thanks to God for His Word, NISS agents entered the church compound and took Pastor Michael to their office in North Khartoum.

“We tried to visit him, but it was not possible as the security prevented us from doing so,” a church leader told Morning Star News, adding that NISS personnel confiscated the pastor’s mobile phone.

Authorities have tried to take a part of church compound, but the worship center remains open.

“The level of persecution has become too much for us in Sudan,” a church leader said. “But God is good all the time; He will help His church face this persecution.”

Police on Dec. 2 arrested members of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC)-affiliated congregation under Article 77 of the notorious Public Order Law of 1991, which gives police broad powers to arrest Christians and other lowly regarded people without cause, for creating a public disturbance. The Christians were released after being sentenced to pay a fine of $250 each, sources said.

Five church leaders arrested on Nov. 25 were released that same night.

With Muslim investors laying claim to the land based on an agreement signed by a government-installed church committee that church leaders say did not legally represent the church, a bulldozer accompanied by security personnel and police knocked down a wall of the church and houses on Nov. 17-18. Christians formed a human barrier to face down further demolition attempts on Nov. 19-20.

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 said.

Church members regard the committee that arranged the transfer of the property to business interests as a “government puppet committee” supporting the government agenda to do away with Christianity.

Last month authorities destroyed the home of pastor Hafiz Fasaha at the SPEC church compound after ordering personnel inside to leave the premises, church leaders said. Authorities told the Christians a Muslim businessman owned the land and that they had a court order calling for the use of force to take over the property. 

While the church blames the government for the court order that it surrender the property, a representative of the Muslim businessmen laying claim to it has said a contract was signed about four years ago giving them the right to invest in the land for a period of up to 20 years. The representative asserts that because of church opposition he had to go to the government to take the land by force. 

Church leaders hold ownership papers to the property and believe any contract surrendering it comes from a government ruse.

Harassment, arrests and persecution of Christians have intensified since the secession of South Sudan in 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 new licenses would be granted for building new churches in Sudan, citing a decrease in the South Sudanese population.

On Oct. 5, 2013, Sudan’s police and security forces broke through the church fence, beat and arrested Christians in the compound and asserted parts of the property belonged to a Muslim investor accompanying them. As Muslims nearby shouted, “Allahu Akbar [God is greater],” plainclothes police and personnel from NISS broke onto the property aboard a truck and two Land Cruisers. After beating several Christians who were in the compound, they arrested some of them; they were all released later that day.

Following the secession of South Sudan in July 2011, Sudan since 2012 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 April 2013, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended the country remain on the list.

Publication date: December 29, 2014