Sudan tracking down converts from Islam in purge of Christianity

Sudanese authorities left a Presbyterian Church of Sudan building in ruins in January. (Morning Star News photo)
Sudanese authorities left a Presbyterian Church of Sudan building in ruins in January. (Morning Star News photo)

A Sudanese Christian has fled the country after authorities in Khartoum threatened to kill him for refusing to divulge names of converts from Islam, sources said.

The Christian, a native of Sudan’s Juba Mountains area, left the country last month after officials from the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) forced him to report to their offices nearly every day since raiding his home on Feb. 23.

“His life was at great risk, especially as NISS threatened to kill him if he did not cooperate with them and reveal names of Muslim converts who became Christians in Sudan,” a source told Morning Star News. “He is in hiding in another country.”
The detained Christian, whose name is withheld for security reasons, told Morning Star News that officials, some of them armed, took him to jail on Feb. 23 for interrogation after confiscating his passport and other documents, cell phone, computer, two laptops, iPad and the mobile phones of his brother and sisters.

“They took me to their offices with me in only my sleeping clothes, shorts and a T-shirt,” he said. “And they took me to their officer just like this, and he said to me, ‘If you need your life, just cooperate with us.’”

That night they took him to his workplace in Khartoum and seized papers and 1,370 Sudanese pounds (US $310), he said. After visiting another site of his workplace the next day, a Sunday, the NISS officials accused him of being a spy for insurgents in the Nuba Mountains and said that he and another Christian taken into custody would therefore be killed in accordance with Sudanese law.

“They left us on Friday and told us to come back on Monday, and they told me I must cooperate with them in giving them the names of Muslims who have changed their religion, and they asked me about the whereabouts of my friend, a guy who was a Muslim and became Christian,” he told Morning Star News before fleeing the country.

“I am now threatened badly before them, and they were making me every day to be in their office, saying if I refused to deal with them they will accuse me, with unknown fate.”

Freedom of religion is a key provision of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sudan is a signatory. But “apostasy,” or leaving Islam, is punishable by death in Sudan under Article 126 of its 1991 Criminal Act, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Sudan has not executed anyone for apostasy in almost two decades, but in 2011 and 2012 nearly 170 people were imprisoned and/or charged with the “crime,” according to USCIRF.

Harassment, arrests and persecution of Christians have intensified since the secession of South Sudan in July 2011, when President Omar al-Bashirv vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language. South Sudan’s secession has served as a pretext for Bashir’s regime to bulldoze church buildings once owned by South Sudanese and to deport Christians based on their ethnicity, sources said.

In a report issued in April, Christian Solidarity Worldwide noted an increase in arrests, detentions and deportations of Christians since December 2012. The organization also reported that systematic targeting of Nuba and other ethnic groups suggests the resurgence of an official policy of “Islamization and Arabization.”

Due to its treatment of Christians and other human rights violations, Sudan has been designated a Country of Particular Concern by the U.S. State Department since 1999, and in April USCIRF recommended the country remain on the list this year.

In Omdurman, opposite Khartoum on the River Nile, plain-clothes police officials on June 25 raided the offices of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) in what church leaders called a bid to take over the property.

Without permission from government authorities, the officers entered the church compound and chased SPEC pastors and others out of the offices, a Christian leader said. In apparent interference in church affairs, the officers said they had sided with some church officials in an administrative dispute and therefore were ordering church leaders to leave the premises or face arrest, said the Christian leader, who requested anonymity.

The government is trying to divide the leadership by becoming involved with administrative disputes within SPEC so that it can take control of the property, he said, without divulging the nature of the administrative conflict.

“The Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowment is behind what is taking place in SPEC,” he told Morning Star News by phone. “All that is happening now is because the government wants to confiscate the SPEC property.”

A government official denied the government was trying to divide the leadership but admitted it had inserted itself into church affairs.

“We are not favoring one side against another,” Abdallah Hassan, director of Church Management in the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowment, told Morning Star News. “We wanted to solve the disputes, but our solution was rejected by the other group within SPEC. They need to hold a general assembly as soon as possible.”

Noting that Tuesday (July 9) was the two-year anniversary of South Sudan’s independence,  USCIRF officials said in a press statement that the legal status of an estimated 500,000 southerners in Sudan remains unresolved.

“With the independence of South Sudan, senior Sudanese government officials have called for a more comprehensive and rigid application of Sharia law in Sudan, where southerners who are Christian have been subject to a range of religious freedom violations,” USCIRF stated. “In particular, there have been credible reports of the destruction of churches, refusal to permit construction of new churches and other forms of intimidation and harassment.”

South Sudanese lost citizenship in Sudan and were ordered to leave by March 1, 2012, but thousands have been stranded in the north due to job loss, poverty, transportation limitations and ethnic and tribal conflict in South Sudan.

Sudan and South Sudan signed an agreement on Sept. 27, 2012, to hold negotiations on citizenship rights for South Sudanese in Sudan and northerners living in South Sudan, but there has been no progress, according to USCIRF.

South Sudanese Christians in Sudan have faced increased hostilities due to their ethnic origins (though thousands have little or no ties to South Sudan) as well as their faith.—Morningstar News