By BosNewsLife Africa Service with BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
KHARTOUM, SUDAN (BosNewsLife)-- An evangelical pastor in Sudan has been acquitted of "obstructing a public servant's duties", activists told BosNewsLife, but other church leaders and believers remained detained Wednesday, January 6, amid an apparent government crackdown against devoted Christians in the Islamic country.
Advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) confirmed that Pastor Hafiz Mengisto of the Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church was acquitted last week, December 29. Aohaned Mustafa, a lawyer for the congregation who also faced "obstruction" charges, had his case dismissed on December 23, 2015, CSW said.
Both men were detained and charged on July 1 last year after police officers arrived at Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church with a court order to demolish a building on the church’s property.
Pastor Mengisto sustained injuries to his head and ear while in police custody and required medical attention upon his release, Christians said.
The trial, which began December 14, came amid a crackdown against minority Christians in Sudan. In December 2015, National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) agents arrested a Christian activist and two church leaders, BosNewsLife learned.
Talahon Nigosi Kassa Ratta, an activist and member of the Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church (SEPC), was detained on December 14, 2015, in Khartoum while Pastors Kwa Shamal and Hassan Abduraheem of the Sudan Church of Christ were arrested five days later, several sources told BosNewsLife.
Ratta’s parents were able to visit him in Kober Men’s Prison at the end of December 2015, but he has since been moved to an unknown location and remains detained without charge, Christians said. "Reverends Shamal and Abduraheem are also being held in unknown locations without charge," CSW added.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said his group welcomes the court’s decision to acquit Pastor Mengisto and dismiss the case against Mustafa. "However, we remain deeply concerned by the State’s repressive actions against religious minorities in Sudan, as exemplified by the arrest and detention of Mr Ratta and Reverends Shamal and Abduraheem."
He said CSW demanded their "immediate and unconditional release." Their detention "without charge" is "in clear violation of their right to liberty and security of a person as detailed in article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)" signed by Sudan, he said.
"We appeal to the international community, and in particular to the African Union [group of nations] to hold Sudan to its obligations under international law by pressing for their immediate release.”
Christian rights groups say the detentions are part of a wider Islamic policy of autocratic President Omar al-Bashir. "The overwhelming majority of the population in Sudan is Sunni Muslim, and Sharia [or Islamic] law is the foundation of Sudan's legal system," said aid and advocacy group Open Doors.
"The incumbent regime is authoritarian and strives to control all aspects of life of its citizens. Blasphemy laws are used country-wide to persecute and prosecute Christians," it added.
'Apostasy', or abandoning Islam, is punishable by the death penalty. "It is very harsh especially on non-Arabs," Open Doors said. .
The group argued that the case surrounding Miriam Ibrahim - the Christian woman who was sentenced to death but later freed after massive international pressure – "is a microcosm of the lives of Christians in the country" of some 40 million people.
Sudan ranks 6th on the Open Doors annual World Watch List of 50 nations where it says Christians face most persecution.
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