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Muslim Sheikh killed in Darfur, ACJPS reports ‘suspicious deaths’ of Christians

August 24 - 2022 GARSILA / DAR EL SALAM
Member of Sudan’s Transitional Sovereignty Council  Abdelgasim Bortom, greets Father Filosouth Faraj, priest of the Coptic Orthodox Church of the Martyrs in Khartoum, (170422 Photo: SUNA)
Member of Sudan’s Transitional Sovereignty Council Abdelgasim Bortom, greets Father Filosouth Faraj, priest of the Coptic Orthodox Church of the Martyrs in Khartoum, (170422 Photo: SUNA)

The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) called on Tuesday for urgent investigations into "suspicious circumstances’" surrounding the deaths of Pastor Azrag Barnabas and his three children in Central Darfur. Armed shepherds shot a sheikh of a Koran School in North Darfur on Monday.

According to a postmortem report uncovered by the ACJPS, Pastor Azrag from the church of Garsila in Central Darfur, may have been poisoned before falling ill and dying in November 2021. The research group said medical staff in Garsila tried their best to save his life but were unable to due to a lack of medical supplies.

Despite his death being reported to the police, no suspects have so far been arrested and a previous investigation into the cause of death was halted sometime after the October's coup, the ACJPS said. The church of Garsila has since closed after other members became concerned about their safety.

Eight months later, on July 13, Azrag’s three children aged 6, 10 and 11 all died in a house fire. People from the community have pointed to foul play and the involvement of extremist groups, although the official cause of the fire remains unknown.

Pastor Azrag was born in Abyei near the South Sudan border area. He, along with other Christians from Abyei, founded a church in Garsila in Central Darfur where he has worked alongside his wife and children since the 1990s before eventually becoming church pastor sometime in 2015. 

Targeted

After Omar Al Bashir took power through a military coup in 1989, Sudan witnessed a significant clampdown on religious freedoms in which Sudanese Christians were greatly persecuted. During the transitional government that followed, Christians began to receive better protection from the Sudanese authorities and the crime of apostasy was decriminalised. However, since October’s coup, there has been a resurgence in the persecution of Sudan’s Christian community. 

On June 22, the ACJPS reported that police forces raided a church in Zalingei and detained four Christian men whom they found praying. The men were charged with apostasy, as the police insisted that they had converted from Islam to Christianity even though they maintained that they are Christians.

The ACJPS has again reiterated its demand for Sudanese authorities to respect religious expression and freedom across the country as ratified in the 2019 Constitutional Declaration.

Sheikh shot dead

A group of shepherds riding camels shot and killed a 55-year-old Muslim sheikh on a road near Naivasha camp for the displaced in Dar El Salam locality in North Darfur on Monday evening.

A witness named El Hadi Kosti told Radio Dabanga that Sheikh Mohamed Yousef, head of a Koran School in Naivasha camp, was shot three times by four armed shepherds who surrounded him just outside the camp as he returned home from his farm with a number of other farmers workers. He died instantly from his injuries.

Kosti said that the a report was filed at the Sudan Joint Forces near the camp, and that the body was buried in Naivasha camp Tuesday afternoon.


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