Lawyers for a Christian pastor convicted for ‘breach of public safety’ after conducting prayers in a disputed church in Sudan’s El Gezira state, say that they intend to appeal the verdict, after a complainant admitted to assaulting the accused.
On Monday, the Haj Abdullah Criminal Court in El Gezira, presided over by Judge Maulana Awad Ibrahim Kouri, sentenced Pastor Estefanos Adel Kajo to one month in prison under Article (69) of the Criminal Code related to breaching public safety.
The case arose on Sunday, April 10, when a group of individuals attacked the worshipers in the church, obstructing them and preventing them from performing religious rites. The attackers claimed that the building belongs to the Committee for Change and Services, however according to documents submitted to the court, the building belongs to the Catholic Church in Bouddamani.
Lawyer Shambago Awad, a member of the defence team, told Sudan Today on Radio Dabanga that his client is innocent of the charges against him. Awad asserts that “the court erred in implementing the law,” and that the breach of public safety does not apply to his client. , He confirmed the defence’s intention to file an appeal against the verdict.
Awad says that during court proceedings, an assailant confessed to assaulting the pastor in the church, prevented the Christians from praying. The man confessed that he grabbed the pastor by his shirt and tore-up the Bible. Awad expressed his astonishment at the conviction of the priest.
There is currently an official policy of religious tolerance in Sudan. On April 19, Member of Sudan’s Transitional Sovereignty Council (TSC), Abdelkasim Burtom, congratulated Sudanese Christians on the festival of Easter, during a visit to the Church of the Martyrs in Khartoum.
The TSC Member praised the level of peaceful and religious coexistence in Sudan, stressing the need to adhere to the values of tolerance, peace, and love among all religious and societal sects.
Burtom stressed the transitional government’s “keenness to protect and preserve the rights of all its citizens of all affiliations and beliefs”
During the deposed Omar Al Bashir regime, (1989-2019), non-Muslims were regularly oppressed. Christian worshipers were prevented from visiting churches on Sundays, and a number of church buildings, many of them belonging to the poor Church of Sudan, were demolished. Since 2017, Christian schools were forced to follow the Muslim week calendar from Sunday to Thursday.
One of the first decisions made by the then Transitional Military Council after the ousting of Al Bashir on April 11 last year, concerned the permission to enjoy Sunday as the official weekend recess day for Christian schools throughout Sudan.