[Editor’s Note: This is part II of an important story published by NubaReports.org on the continuing crisis in Sudan regarding the persecution of that country’s growing Christian population. Despite political posturing of Sudan’s Islamist government, trying to redefine itself as a “moderate” regime, the sad reality on the ground is very much the same as it ever was. After a lot of rhetoric and promises, Sudanese Christians are still not free.]
Just days before the president pardoned Abdelrahim and Abdelmoula, Khartoum state authorities destroyed another church 19 kilometers outside the capital in Soba al-Radi. Authorities under the Ministry of Planning and Development bulldozed the church on a Sunday, May 7, as Christians prepared to worship.
The government said in a statement the church was built on land allocated for residential use. The church is among 25 other churches the state has marked for demolition in a June 2016 letter, claiming they were all built on land zoned for other purposes.
But according to Pastor Elias Abdelrahim, who manages the Soba al-Radi Church, the building was first built on empty land in 1986 and they have been trying to attain legal documentation ever since.
(Muhanad) Nur, who also represents the now demolished church, said the government had provided land registration certificates for several mosques in the area but not the church – despite its long tenure. Nur had filed a 15-day abstention with the court of appeal to block the church’s demolition but the government ignored the court order.
Three congregations used to attend Soba Al-Radi Church since it was the only church in the area following the demolition of 12 other church buildings over the past six years, news reports said. Sometimes over 200 people would pray there, Abdelrahim said.
“Now we gather at the church’s yard to pray, because we fear the remains of the building may fall on our heads,” he said.
The U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires Ervin Massinga visited the demolition site. “This is a very sad and regrettable situation,” Massinga said in a short video. “Religious freedom and rule of law go hand-in-hand. Yes, rule of law is important, but without religious freedom, it is hollow.”
The parliamentary chairman of Sudan’s Legislation and Justice Committee, Ahmed El Tijani, defended the demolition in a statement, claiming the move was purely for land ownership reasons and not based on religious discrimination.
A month earlier, a group raided the Evangelical School of Sudan to quell a protest and killed church elder Yunan Abdullah. The April raid represented another move by Sudanese authorities to grab church land for investment, the Sudanese human rights Sudan Democracy First Group reported.
An armed group supported by Sudan’s ministry of guidance and endowments attacked civilians at the Evangelical School, Christians who had staged a protest against the attempted seizure of the building, local sources told Nuba Reports. Abdullah had rushed over to the Evangelical School from the neighboring Bahri Evangelical Church to help defend the protesters against the armed group. One of the members of this group stabbed Abdullah, who died of his injuries in a nearby hospital. Abdullah is survived by his wife and two children.
Why target Christians now?
This state persecution of Christians appears at loggerheads with the October conclusions of the National Dialogue, a state-led peace initiative ostensibly designed to end Sudan’s internal conflicts.
The conference attendants, including government and some opposition parties, concluded the event by issuing a National Document that makes at least four references to religious diversity, the freedom of worship and to end religious discrimination in Sudan.
Sudanese authorities continue to target Christians, however, seemingly apathetic to these events.
“You can’t imagine how this government works sometimes,” Nur said. “Human rights defenders, Christians, among others, are just locked up without any consideration of the consequences.” One explanation for this may be that government institutions are not in control – instead, divergent units within the security apparatus call the shots.
“The major problem is the NISS (National Intelligence and Security Service) is ruling the country,” said Petr Jasek, a Christian Aid Worker who was imprisoned by the Sudan government for more than a year. “It is not the minister of foreign affairs or minister of justice. It’s really the secret service in control.”
Sudan’s foreign ministry made several promises to the Czech government to release Jasek, for instance, which were unfulfilled.
“But I was kept hostage by one of these generals in the security wing,” Jasek said. “He wanted to show how important he was and refused to comply.”
The justice ministry also often works at the behest of NISS and controls the courts, he added. Nur agrees.
“It’s true, it’s not a secret,” he said. “NISS control everything and is accountable to very few.”
In the midst of writing this article, authorities demolished another church in an area called Kalagala, south Khartoum, Abdelrahim told Nuba Reports. In this environment, Abdelrahim still fears conditions for Christians will deteriorate further in the years ahead. Security forces continue to monitor his movements upon his release.
“It’s a difficult time for us,” he said. “Even with our release from prison last week, we are still not free."