04/29/2022 Sudan (International Christian Concern) – Earlier this week, ICC reported that Islamic extremists have attacked a church in central Sudan. The militants injured the pastor, Pastor Estefanos, and beat three other women in the congregation as the church gathered for a Palm Sunday service.
One of the perpetrators was a police officer who had previously filed a well-founded complaint alleging that Pastor Estefanos was disturbing public order. At the time of the attack, Pastor Estefanos had scheduled a court hearing for Monday April 25 on the police officer’s charges.
Unfortunately, Pastor Estefanos was sentenced to a month in prison at Monday’s hearings. Judge Awad Ibrahim Kury, a Muslim, found him guilty of disturbing the peace under Article 69 of Sudan’s 1991 Penal Code. His prison sentence began on April 25.
Pastor Estefanos’ attorney Shanabo Awad told news sources: “This verdict is not fair and my client is innocent.”
The imprisoned Christian leader’s church has long been harassed by Muslim extremists. Church leaders were arrested and interrogated in February after Muslim extremists complained about the presence of their place of worship and closed it on February 21. Dalman Hassan, an evangelist, was arrested on February 27 and later released along with the church’s pastor that day, the Muslims said, who accused church members of hostility towards Islam by holding gatherings on Friday, the Muslim day of mosque prayers.
After two years of progress on religious freedom in Sudan after the end of the Islamist dictatorship under former President Omar al-Bashir in 2019, the specter of state-sponsored persecution returned with a military coup on October 25, 2021.
After Bashir was ousted from 30 years of power in April 2019, the civil-military transitional government managed to reverse some provisions of Sharia (Islamic law). It forbade the designation of any religious group as “infidels,” effectively repealing the apostasy laws that made leaving Islam punishable by death.
With the October 25 coup, Christians in Sudan fear the return of the most repressive and harsh aspects of Islamic law. Abdalla Hamdok, who led a transitional government as prime minister from September 2019, was held under house arrest for nearly a month before being released and reinstated in November under a tenuous power-sharing deal.
Hamdock was tasked with rooting out longstanding corruption and an Islamist “deep state” from Bashir’s regime — the same deep state suspected of rooting out the interim government in the October 25 coup.
The persecution of Christians by non-state actors continued before and after the coup. In Open Doors’ World Watch 2022 list of countries where it’s hardest to be a Christian, Sudan remained ranked 13th, where it was 1st last year, as non-state actor attacks continued and religious freedom reforms continued Levels were not enacted locally.
Sudan had fallen out of the top 10 for the first time in six years when it landed at number 13 on the 2021 World Watch List for the first time. The US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report notes that with the decriminalization of apostasy and a halt to the destruction of churches, conditions have improved somewhat, but conservative Islam still dominates society. Christians still face discrimination, including problems obtaining permits to build church buildings.
In 2019, the US State Department removed Sudan from its list of countries of very high concern (CPC) that commit or tolerate “systematic, persistent and egregious violations of religious freedom” and upgraded it to a watch list. The State Department removed Sudan from the Special Watch List in December 2020. Sudan had previously been designated as a CPC from 1999 to 2018.
Sudan’s Christian population is estimated at 2 million, or 4.5 percent of the total population of more than 43 million.
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