[Editor’s Note: NubaReports.org recently published a very important story on the continuing crisis in Sudan regarding the persecution of that country's growing Christian population. Despite positive political posturing of Sudan’s Islamist government, trying to redefine itself as a “moderate” regime, the sad reality on the ground away from the spotlight is very much the same as it ever was. After a lot of rhetoric and promises, Sudanese Christians are still not free.]
It was unexpected but much welcomed news. On May 11, Sudan President Omar Al-Bashir pardoned Pastor Hassan Abdulrahim from the Nuba Mountains, along with a Darfur activist, Abdulmoneim Abdelmoula.
After spending 17 months in several prisons, the two were released early from a 12-year sentence facing charges of undermining the constitution, espionage and spreading false information, their defense lawyer Muhanad Nur told Nuba Reports.
Abdulrahim came out of Kober prison, a facility in the capital of Khartoum used to lock up political opponents and terrorists alike. “It’s hard to remain in prison all that time, especially when we think about our families,” Abdulrahim told Nuba Reports. “But it was also a good experience for us – to help build up the church in prison and encourage parishioners.”
The targeting of churches and Christians ratcheted up after South Sudan gained independence in 2011. Once the predominantly Christian South Sudanese populace seceded, those Christians remaining within the country had less institutional support and protection against state authorities. In April 2013, the Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced that no licenses would be granted for building new churches in Sudan, citing a decrease in the South Sudanese population. Two years later, government officials stiffened penalties for apostasy and blasphemy.
“Christianity is not welcome in Sudan,” said Nur who routinely defends Christian cases in court, including the Sudan apostasy hearings against Meriam Yahia, now in the United States. “It seems as if every week I am hearing about another case of Christians being persecuted here.”
In Nur’s latest case, the accused’s sentences were largely based on their association with a Christian aid worker from the Czech Republic, Petr Jasek. Authorities arrested Jasek around the same time as Abdulrahim and Abdelmoula along with another Nuba pastor, Kuwa Shamal, who was released in late 2016 for lack of evidence.
In October 2016, state prosecutors presented video footage and photographs taken from Jasek’s laptop as evidence. The prosecutor’s case included footage Jasek took interviewing Christians in the Nuba Mountains. The state evidence also included evidence of the four suspects assisting a student and Christian convert who suffered skin burns from a teargas bomb during a 2013 university protest.
“They were monitoring me,” Jasek told Nuba Reports upon his release. “They [Sudan’s security agents] showed photos of all the meetings I had with church members. There were even night photos –they were monitoring every step.”
But the heavy state surveillance hardly produced any criminal offense.
"Despite being locked up for over a year, the whole legal process was actually six months," Jasek said. "It took them [state prosecutors] about three months to raise their concerns and then our lawyers were able to destroy their accusations in three hours."
Despite a weak case against Jasek, Sudan only released him in February after a visit to Khartoum by the Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek.
All four faced considerable duress, shifting to several different prison facilities during their incarceration.
"I was in five different prisons in total," Jasek said. "Usually the transfer meant that conditions were going to be even worse."
At one state, Jasek was placed in a cell with Islamic State fighters who would beat and torture him. One of the fighters from Libya boasted that he had beheaded 20 Coptic Christians in Libya and carried a fishing line that "could kill anyone in seconds," Jasek said during a press conference after his release....
Christians continue to worship even though Christianity is not welcome in Sudan.