According to the World Watch Monitor (WWM), the Sudanese authorities are trying to intervene in the affairs of several denominations in the country. Eight church leaders were detained and questioned in the past six weeks.
Observers fear a campaign developed by the Sudanese government to seize control of the country’s churches, the Christian organisation reported on Wednesday.
Mahjoub Abuterin, a senior leader of the Sudan Church of Christ (SCC) was held in Omdurman, the twin city of Khartoum, on 22 September. He was released again after questioning. But it is not known whether he has been charged with any offence.
The WWM claims Khartoum has been trying to manage the affairs of several denominations in the country by removing church-appointed leaders, and states that Abuterin was held because he refused to let government officials take over the leadership of his church.
Last month, security officials told four other members of SCC's leadership committee that charges would be brought against them because they refused to let officials take over the premises of the church's office.
In August, seven senior SCC leaders were held and questioned before being released on bail. Among them was Kuwa Shemaal, the Head of Missions of the church. He was previously detained in December 2015, and released on 2 January this year because of a lack of evidence. Two others detained with him were released in May.
“Christians in Sudan are facing a prolonged campaign of intimidation waged by the government, which has included the confiscation of their properties,” WWM says. “The persecution of Christians in the country has increased since the Christian-majority south seceded from the Muslim-majority north in 2011.”
The Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced in April 2013 that no new licenses would be granted to build new churches in the country, claiming there is no need for new church buildings because many mainly Christian South Sudanese refugees returned to their own country after the secession of South Sudan in 2011.
In April this year, Sudan Democracy First Group (SDFG) warned for an “expansion of the religious discrimination against Christians in Sudan”.
The Kampala-based Sudanese think-tank stated that “Since 2011, repeated attempts to confiscate the properties of the Sudanese churches and their endowments, and increasing implementation of various types of restrictions on activities of Sudanese Christians, have been made.
“This clearly demonstrates growing and continuous trends of systematic discrimination against Christians in Sudan.
“An additional layer of discrimination becomes visible, when taking into account that large proportions of Sudanese Christians are originating from the conflict zones in the Nuba Mountains. Security forces have thereby additionally labelled their religious communities as a security threat,” SDFG stated.
Radio Dabanga reported in August that the police of Central Omdurman ordered Rev. Yahya Abdelrahman, the head of the Anglican Evangelical Church and his deputy to evacuate their house, because an investor claimed he owned the land property rights.
Abdelrahman said that a force of court police, accompanied by an investor, forced him and his deputy to evacuate the house of the Evangelical Church at El Mulazimin in Omdurman. The decision apparently was issued by the Omdurman Central Court.
“The court judge insisted on the implementation of the decision, despite the fact that the house number was not identical to the house referred to in the decision,” he stated.
In May, a church in southern Khartoum’s Soba Aradi was bulldozed to the ground. Two pastors were detained for several hours. Three months earlier, the demolition of 27 churches in Khartoum was delayed after an appeal was made to the Khartoum North Court of Appeal.
A conflict between the Sudanese Ministry of Guidance and the Evangelical Church over land reportedly triggered the killing of a young Christian man Yunan at the courtyard of the Evangelical Church and School in Omdurman in early April.
An investor had reportedly bought or leased the land. When he tried to seize the school by force, Christian youth staged a sit-in in the church building.
A police force then raided the premises on 3 April, and detained 13 of the protesters on charges of trespassing. A member of the committee that signed the contract to the site stabbed Yunan Abdallah to death and seriously wounded another.
The SDFG report refers to a similar incident that occurred in July last year, when security forces stormed the Evangelical School in Khartoum North with five heavily armed vehicles. They detained 19 Evangelical priests, elders, and students, who were holding a peaceful sit-in to protest the selling of the church land to an investor.