By BosNewsLife Africa Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
KHARTOUM, SUDAN (BosNewsLife)-- Evangelical Christians in Sudan face a new government crackdown involving the detention of several church leaders and members as well as the seizure of properties, BosNewsLife learned Friday, April 15.
Among those targeted is the Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church (SEPC) where authorities have seized properties as part of a wider repression campaign that have forced many Christians to flee the Sunni Muslim nation, according to rights investigators.
"An illegally-convened lands and buildings committee" linked to the Ministry of Guidance and Endowments was "involved in the unlawful sale of church property to Muslim businessmen," explained advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
This month, the Ministry's committee elected new members and renewed the terms of older ones, despite a Khartoum Administrative Court ruling which only recognized the church-elected land and buildings committee.
“We are concerned to learn of the appointment of yet another committee, in violation of church procedures and the court ruling," said Mervyn Thomas, CSW's chief executive.
Days before the controversial election, Pastor Daniel Weliam, secretary of the SEPC's own lands and buildings committee, was said to have been detained for three days. A week earlier, 16 leaders and elders were summoned to the local police station, held for questioning and released later on the same day, Christians said. An arrest warrant was reportedly issued for Christian Rafat Obid, but he was not yet detained Thursday April 14.
"We urge the Minister of Guidance and Endowments, Dr Ammar Mirghani Hussein Mohammed, to ensure that the ministry complies with the court's decision and recognizes the legitimacy of the committee chaired by Mr Obid," Thomas told BosNewsLife in a statement.
CSW also expressed concern that the "illegal committee" stated its intention "to sell all remaining SEPC property, including church buildings and schools, which would effectively close down church operations."
In addition, "an unnamed member of the committee claimed in the local media that Christians who complain of persecution merely seek to undermine Sudan’s image internationally because in reality their rights and freedoms are fully guaranteed," CSW said.
The latest controversy comes shortly after at least six clergymen and two lay members from three denominations were reportedly detained in seperate incidents by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) since December last year.
Those detained include Christian activist and member of the Khartoum Bahri Church, Talahon Nigosi Kassa Ratta who was involved in organizing protests against government interference in SEPC's affairs, activistrs said. He was reportedly detained December 14, 2015 and permitted one visit from his family at the end of that month at Kober prison. He has since been moved and remains in detention without charge, according to CSW investigators.
Following Ratta’s arrest, Reverend Hassan Abduraheem of the Sudan Church of Christ was reportedly detained on December 19 at his home and moved to an unknown location without charge or access to a lawyer or his family.
His wife said in published remarks that she is concerned about his health as he suffers from stomach ulcers. She has regularly submitted requests to visit him but they have apparently not been granted. "We call for an end to the campaign of harassment targeting church leaders and members, and for the immediate and unconditional release of Reverend Abduraheem and Mr Ratta," Thomas said.
"Their detention for over three months without charge, and without regular access to their families or a legal representative amounts to arbitrary detention and violates the principles of fair trial articulated in article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sudan is party.”
It comes at a time of turbulence in Sudan where two rounds of north-south civil war killed some 1.5 million people, and a continuing conflict in the western region of Darfur has driven two million people from their homes and killed more than 200,000, according to several estimates. Sudan's autocratic President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has denied wrongdoing against minorities, though he faces two international arrest warrants - issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague - on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Sudan, once the largest and one of the most geographically diverse states in Africa, split into two countries in July 2011 after the people of the south voted for independence. The government of Sudan allowed an independent South Sudan, where the mainly Christian and Animist people had for decades been struggling against rule by the Arab Muslim north.
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