KHARTOUM, SUDAN (BosNewsLife)– A court in Sudan has ruled that two South Sudanese pastors should stand trial on “espionage” and other charges that could carry the death penalty, despite international pressure to drop the case.
Following a one-day hearing, the judge said July 2 there was “enough evidence” to prosecute Pastors Yat Michael and Peter Yen of the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church.
On June 25, the court had indicated that it would this week decide whether to drop the case against them or allow it to continue. Local Christians and activists have linked the charges to the Christian activities of
the evangelical church leaders.
During Wednesday’s hearing the judge reportedly questioned both men about documents found on their computer after their arrests. The material reportedly included internal church reports, maps that show the population and topography of Khartoum, Christian literature, and a study guide on the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).
“All of these materials, with the exception of the internal church report and the study guide on NISS are publicly accessible materials,” argued U.S.-based American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ), which provides legal assistance to international religious-freedom cases,the ACLJ.
The pastors acknowledged having the internal church report, though both reportedly said they had never seen the study guide on NISS until it was presented in court. Both men claimed they had no knowledge of how it got on the computer.
The judge’s ruling is not a conviction but means the pastors now must counter the charges by presenting evidence to demonstrate thier innocence, ACLJ said.
Their lawyer, Muhaned Mustafa, reportedly received less than two weeks to prepare their case for the next hearing on July 14.
Mustafa will have only about 15 minutes to talk with his clients, prior to the hearing, to prepare them, according to sources familiar with the case.
The attorney was to appeal the matter Sunday, July 5. to the prison authorities “and press that denying access to his clients for preparation of their defense violates Sudan’s constitution,” added ACLJ in a statement seen by BosNewsLife.
The group said it was also working with Mariam Ibraheem, a Christian mother who was freed from death row in Sudan amid international pressure, and other contacts to fight for the freedom and exoneration of the two pastors.
“As Mariam has said ‘Being Christian is not a crime’. Yet for these two pastors, they could be sentenced to death for expressing their Christian faith. We cannot be silent.”
The group said it had urged supporters to pray for the pastors, their families, and join nearly 200,000 people who it claimed already signed a petition for their freedom via website BeHeardProject.com.