By BosNewsLife Africa Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J.Bos
KHARTOUM, SUDAN (BosNewsLife)-- Fourteen evangelical Christians who were detained in a Sudanese government-backed
raid on their congregation and school have been released after paying huge fines in the impoverished African nation, their supporters told BosNewsLife.
The release followed a prayer appeal by Sudanese Christians who expressed concern over the whereabouts of 14 members and leaders of the Evangelical Church in Bahri, the country's third largest city near the capital Khartoum.
Their church properties had been sold by a government-appointed committee, which the church did not recognize and had been ruled illegal by an Administrative Court, BosNewsLife reported earlier.
The troubles reportedly began last week, July 7, when businessmen came to the compound to take over the church complex. When church leaders objected saying "the sale was illegal" police initially detained 11 church members, according to Christians with close knowledge about the situation.
They were briefly released after intervention by a church lawyer, but several of them and other Christians were detained again later in the day because they returned to the church compound and tried to gain access to a locked school building.
In total 17 people were taken into police custody, including three members of the controversial committee who were soon freed, explained Middle East Concern (MEC), an advocacy group supporting the Christians.
On Sunday, July 10, all 14 Christian detainees were charged by a Bahri Criminal Court which sentenced 13 of them to a fine of 300 Sudanese Pounds ($50) for obstructing the police, and the other one to a fine of 500 Sudanese Pounds ($82) "for obstructing the police and disturbing the peace", trial observers said.
They were all released after paying the fines, huge amounts in a country where average monthly incomes hover around $50-100 or less, according several sources.
However five of them still face a trial "for a breach of a signed commitment," MEC told BosNewsLife. "They were detained
in the first round of arrests on July 7 and then released after signing a statement saying they would not "disturb the peace" again.
They were then re-arrested in the second round of arrests
and accused of violating the conditions of their earlier release."
No date had been set for their trial and their names were not immediately released.
Sudanese Christians reportedly requested prayer that "those charged will be treated justly" that "church leaders will have wisdom in their dealings with the authorities" and that "the court ruling in favour of the church will be implemented".
They were also expressing hope that "all officials involved will love mercy, act justly, learn about Jesus and choose to follow Him," MEC said.
The reported raids and detention is part of a wider crackdown on minority Christians in Sudan, where the government has been supporting a strict interpretation of Islam and views churches with suspicion, according to rights activists and church observers.