EU envoy inquires about freedom of Christians in Sudan

The European Union envoy for the freedom of religion is in Sudan to inquire about the situation of Christians and the demolition of churches in the country.

The European Union envoy for the freedom of religion is in Sudan to inquire about the situation of Christians and the demolition of churches in the country.

The visiting EU Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU, Jan Figel, met with Sudanese legislators and Members of Parliament at the National Assembly on Thursday. The Slovak and former European Commissioner discussed issues related to religious freedom and the situation of Christians in particular.

The chairman of Sudan's Legislation and Justice Committee at the National Assembly, Ahmed El Tijani, reported in a press statement that Figel asked about the demolition of several churches. El Tijani told him that the freedom of belief is sanctioned by the Sudanese constitution, and the state does not impose any religious belief or practice on its citizens.

He added that the churches have not been removed for their religious meaning but because of a dispute over land ownership. “Some mosques have been demolished for the same reason.”

In February, the demolition of 27 churches and church buildings in Khartoum was delayed after an appeal was made to the court by lawyers. A senior church member told Radio Dabanga that the churches which the authorities intend to demolish are like “ordinary houses, where Christians congregate for prayer”.

The government has stopped granting permits to build new churches in Sudan while ordering the demolition of a number of churches in the capital during the past years. A church in El Haj Yousif was destroyed in August last year on claims that it was illegally built in 1976. In July, fourteen people, including priests, were sentenced to paying a fine for obstructing police that tried to pull-down the Bahri Evangelical Church. In October 2015, two churches of the British Evangelical Lutheran Church in Omdurman were demolished in Omdurman.

Sudan Democracy First Group and the Hudo Centre have repeatedly claimed that Christians and their freedom of religion is targeted by Sudanese authorities.

Conversations with EU

Chairman El Tijani said that the meeting was requested by the EU envoy, who besides religious freedom also discussed a number of human rights issues. Figel mentioned the role of women in politics and their representation in the executive and legislative organs in the country.

The Delegation of the EU to Sudan visited Khartoum earlier this week to discuss a range of topics, including cooperation and management on migration issues. Sudan is identified as a source of migrants to Europe and a transit country for migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.