By BosNewsLife Africa Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
KHARTOUM, SUDAN (BosNewsLife)-- Sudanese authorities have charged two church leaders with crimes that carry the death penalty as part of a wider crackdown on Christians and political dissent in Sudan, rights activists confirmed to BosNewsLife Thursday, August 11.
Reverends Hassan Abduraheem and Kuwa Shamal, who were held "in cramped police holding cells for several months" face their first trial hearing Sunday, August 14, said advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). Ahead of the court appointment, both men were reportedly moved Thursday, August 11, to Al-Huda Prison, in North Omdurman.
Christians linked the imprisonment to their church activities and support for an opposition demonstrator who was injured in a protest. Reverend Abduraheem, held since December 2015, and Reverend Shamal, detained since May, are charged jointly with Abdulmonem Abdumawla, a graduate from Darfur who has been behind bars since December last year.
The men are accused of at least seven crimes including the death sentence carrying charges of "waging war against the state" and "espionage", BosNewsLife learned.
Other alleged crimes include "complicity to execute a criminal agreement", "calling for opposition of the public authority by violence or criminal force", "exciting hatred between classes", "propagation of a false news article" and "entry and photograph of
military areas and equipment."
Trial observers say their troubles began after a request for medical assistance from a young Darfuri man named Ali Omer who
was injured at an opposition rally at the Quran Karim University in Omdurman in 2015. His friend, Abdulmonem Abdumawla, began collecting money for the man, who suffered severe burns that require regular medical care, according to Christians familiar with the case.
Abdumawla eventually contacted Reverend Abduraheem, who donated money for Omer’s treatment. That apparently angered authorities. Last year a student died in clashes between students supporting the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and opposition supporters.
Since that incident, Darfuri students have been increasingly targeted by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), according to rights activists. By May 2015, over 100 Darfuri students were detained by NISS in the capital Khartoum and this year NISS has "violently suppressed peaceful student demonstrations against government repression", CSW investigators said.
The persecution of Reverend Shamal appears to be related to his friendship with Reverend Abduraheem and his senior position in the Sudan Church of Christ, according to Christians activists.
This is second consecutive year in which the Sudanese authorities have charged church leaders with crimes that carry the death penalty. Reverends Yat Michael and Peter Reith, who faced similar charges, were released in August 2015.
"We are deeply concerned to learn of the serious charges levelled against Reverend Hassan Abduraheem and Mr. Abdulmonem Abdumawla simply for seeking to assist with medical expenses, and against Reverend Kuwa Shamal merely for being a Christian and a friend of Reverend Abduraheem," said Mervyn Thomas, CSW's chief executive.
"These innocent men now face the possibility of a death sentence on evidence that would not justify an arrest, let alone a conviction, given its paucity," he added.
He said his group has urged Sudan's government to ensure that this trial is conducted fairly, with regular access to legal representatives and family members. "We also urge the government to end the harassment and targeting of Darfuri students and Christians by NISS and to uphold the rights of every Sudanese citizen, regardless of their religion or ethnicity."
Since the separation of South Sudan, President al Bashir has repeatedly called for a constitution based solely on Sharia, or Islamic, law, which activists fear will offer no protection for Christians and other religious minorities.
Observers say the case against Reverends Abduraheem and Shamal comes while severe restrictions are applied against Christians by the
government though NISS, which detained at least six clergymen and two lay members from three denominations since December 2015.
Additionally, several church buildings are under threat of demolition or seizure, Christians said.