Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sudan: a campaign of systematic persecution; laws being drafted

The following is a translation of an article that appeared on the Sudan news site Al-Rakoba on 7 Feb 2013. After examining the evidence the writer concludes that the attacks on churches and Christians now escalating in Sudan are not isolated events, but part of a systematic campaign. This, he says, raises concerns about the status of Christians in the new Sudan.

Christian Sudanese: isolated events or systematic attack?
by Abdel-Qadir Mohamed,  7 Feb 2013 (in Arabic)

On a near daily basis, the newspapers are circulating news about the detention of Sudanese and foreign Christians. The last was the report in Al-Mijhar Newspaper on the arrest last week of a Sudanese Christian who owns and runs a factory in the city of Shendi. He was arrested by Criminal Investigation agents who accused him of abducting a Muslim woman. The source [for Al-Mijhar] also expressed concerns that the young woman might have been "Christianised".

Another report, brought by Al-Qarar Newspaper last week, claimed that the Security Panel has stopped an international missionary network run by a Canadian woman in co-operation with foreigners of various nationalities. A similar story circulated by the media in early January telling that a young Muslim woman studying at a University in Khartoum had disappeared in mysterious circumstances, though later it was discovered that she had converted to Christianity and migrated to Egypt with the help of undisclosed parties. At the same time the AFP quoted an official in the Coptic Church, without revealing his identity, who confirmed, 'The Sudanese Authorities have arrested two church priests after they baptised a Muslim woman who converted to Christianity'. In the meantime, a group calling itself Al-Qaeda in the Nilien States issued a statement in which they threatened Sudanese Copts with reprisal unless they released the woman they claim had been kidnapped and Christianised. [For more detail see RLPB 198]

In addition to the news circulating in the media, a parallel message surfaced from the Imams of the mosques. The speaker of "Mugamaa Al-Nour Al-Islami", Mr. Essam Ahmed Al-Bashir, claimed that "organisations and agents, at home and abroad, are working to deviate the youth". He advocated "fighting the dens that spreads vice, by the means of taking control". Though he did not mention any particular organisation, he stressed that there are "organisations working unregulated at christianising people". It is known that Sudan, until recent times, had a law known as the Missionary Institutions Law which restricted the movements of Christians and their religious freedom, but the law was abolished in 1994. It seems that Essam Al-Basir and other mosque Imams have began asking the government, which they are part of, to activate "laws" in the face what they have called Christianisation. It seems that a new law, addressing this matter, is presently cooking on low heat away from sight.

The rising wave of media attacks against Sudanese Christians has attracted attention, especially since mid 2012, but also a little before that, specifically in April last year when the wave reached its highest and Islamist extremists set fire in the evangelical church at Gerief West before demolishing it with a bulldozer. A church was also destroyed in Al-Haj-Youssif and yet no statement was issued by any official government body regarding the two events. Meanwhile, some of the activists said that the extremists who burned the church at Gerief had received their instructions from an extremist religious leader who is an Imam in a mosque at Gerief West and a member of the Institute of Sudanese scholars.

In related developments, the security authorities in Khartoum state have launched a campaign aimed at closing schools and colleges owned and run by Christians. Life College for teaching Arabic to non-Arabic speakers was closed on 15 January and the college director, who is a Christian Egyptian, was given 72 hours to leave the country. College property was confiscated and all its foreign students were given 48 hours to leave the country. Also closed was Kreedo Collage in Haj-Youssif where English language and Computer Sciences were taught. The college, which is owned and run by an American Christian, serves mostly Christian students who come from many different regions of Sudan. At the same time the authorities closed the Nile Valley Academy and Aslan Collage for teaching English and Computer Sciences. In most cases, the Government authorities have not provided any explanation for the closure of these institutes. According to trusted sources inside those institutes - all the institutes which have been closed and had their properties confiscated had the necessary permits and legal status qualifying them to operate.

The other side of the attack, which completes it, is the media coverage on the issue of Muslims converting to Christianity -- the thing the newspapers have called Christianisation. The biased coverage has brought unjustified violence and has failed to take into consideration the slightest respect for the people who adhere to the Christian religion or to their religious feelings.

Needless to say that the media coverage by the majority of the newspapers condemns Christianisation and wants it punished as the Sudanese criminal law provides: "Whoever abuses publicly or insults, in any manner, any of the religions, or its rituals, or its beliefs, or its sanctities, or incites contempt or humiliation to its adherents is to be punished by imprisonment for a period not exceeding 6 months or by fine or by flogging that shall not not exceed 40 lashes." (Article 125 - the Sudanese Criminal Law).

It is apparent - from the hostile tone of the pro-government newspapers and Imams - that the matter constitutes a systematic attack and not isolated or unrelated events unconnected to each other, giving rise to concerns about the status of Sudanese Christians and their exposure to a new wave of persecution.

Christians have suffered more than others under the current government which has called for jihad and religious war against rebel movements that were simply demanding their natural right to development.

The suffering of Sudanese Christians has continued from the transitional period until this day; Christians are not allowed to build a new church in Sudan today, and according to Christian sources, the last church built in the north of Sudan was built 23 years ago!!

The Sudanese Government should remember that "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance." (Universal Declaration of Human Rights - Article 18)

Also, the Government should remember that it is under international obligation to ensure and protect the right to freedom of religion in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees this right.

END TRANSLATION
-------------------------------------------

Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)