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Church fights confiscation, closure in Sudan’s capital

February 22 - 2015 KHARTOUM NORTH
Church members protest against the demolition of the Evangelical church in Khartoum North, 19 November 2014
Church members protest against the demolition of the Evangelical church in Khartoum North, 19 November 2014

Lawyers representing the Evangelical Church in Khartoum North lodged an appeal on Saturday against a court decision to confiscate the remaining property at the site and permanently close the church.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), policemen arrived at the church on 18 February, with an order from the Khartoum Civil Court to lock the outer gates of the property. In response, the lawyers issued a technical challenge on the wording of the order, as it does not identify the specific area of the church's property affected by the order.

“The Bahri Evangelical Church is part of the Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church (SEPC) denomination and has been in an ongoing legal battle with the Sudanese authorities, who have attempted to sell church land to a Muslim businessman,” a CSW spokesman explained.

Demolished

In November last year, police raided the church premises, and seized a large part of the compound. They demolished the youth house, as well as the accommodation facility for the pastors. A church member told Dabanga at the time that the police accompanied investors who claimed to have leased the premises. On 2 December, the police entered the compound again, and began demolishing the buildings. 37 young parish members who were praying in the church, and protested against the demolition, were detained.

CSW said that the Sudanese government maintains that the land was legally sold to a businessman by a church committee. Church leaders later discovered that a secondary committee, backed by the government and formed in contravention of the SEPC's administrative processes, had entered into a contract with the businessman. On January 6, a court ruled in favour of the legitimate church committee, but this ruling was later overturned by the Supreme Court on appeal.

Mervyn Thomas, CSW Chief Executive, commented that the “questionable legal avenues utilised by the Sudanese authorities to confiscate property belonging to the Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church and other properties belonging to the SEPC, are a clear attempt to financially weaken the church and precipitate its permanent closure.”

Violation

“These actions are in clear violation of Article 6 of Sudan's constitution, Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and Article 8 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR), which guarantee the right to freedom of religion or belief, and to which Sudan is a signatory,” Thomas explained.

“The court order will effectively facilitate the illegal closure of yet another church at a time when the government has stated that the construction of new churches will no longer be permitted. We call upon the international community, and in particular the African Union, to hold Sudan to its obligations to protect the right to freedom of religion or belief and to guarantee the profession and free practice of religion as outlined in international statutes to which the nation is party.”

Detentions, harassment

On 21 December last year, visiting South Sudanese Pastor Yat Michael, was detained by members of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) in Khartoum, after he had been preaching that morning at the Evangelical Church in Khartoum North. The next day, they informed his wife that he was being held in relation to an ongoing investigation, but did not reveal any further details.

Another South Sudanese pastor who was visiting Khartoum, Rev. Peter Yen, was held on 11 January when he responded to summons to report to a NISS office. It appears that his detention is linked to a letter he delivered to the Religious Affairs Office in Khartoum inquiring about Rev. Michael’s condition. Both are held incommunicado until today.

Rev. Kodi El Ramli, Secretary-General of the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC), told Dabanga on 10 September last year, that, apart from the confiscation of churches in the Sudanese capital, the SCC had received many complaints about harassments and discrimination of Christians. “They are systematically obstructed to visit their churches.” The SCC’s Board of Trustees planned to convene “a large meeting with the heads of all churches, to discuss these problems extensively”.

(Source: Christian Telegraph/Dan Wooding)


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