Five leading members of the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCC) were detained after saying prayers at a church building in Omdurman on Sunday afternoon.
The priests were summoned after prayers in the church in El Sawra block 29 by the district police, and held on charges of disturbing the public order.
SCC legal consultant Dimas Marajan told Radio Dabanga that the head of the SCC Rev. Salian Tutu, pastors Ali Hakim and Imberatour Hammad, evangelist Habeel Ibrahim, and member of the Church’s Executive Committee Sheikh Abdelbagi Tutu were released on bail at midnight.
“On Sunday morning, when the priests and worshippers went to the church in the El Sawra district block 29 for the mass, they found the church doors locked,” the lawyer recounted.
“The church guard informed them that an unidentified group of men closed the church at night. Not much later, a large force of policemen appeared. They told the people in front of the church that the Sudanese Ministry of Endowments decided to appoint a new church administration that will supervise anyone who wants to pray at the churches of the SCC.
“The worshippers rejected the decision saying the Ministry of Endowments has no right to intervene in internal church matters. SCC administration members are to be chosen by the church only,” Marajan said. “The people then tore the locks, entered the church, and began their prayers. After the mass, the police of the district immediately summoned the five priests and detained them.”
The National Umma Party (NUP), chaired by El Sadig El Mahdi, strongly condemned the detention of the priests.
In a statement on Monday, the NUP called the closure of the church building and the detention of the clerics “an attack on religious freedoms that may lead to a sectarian strife in the country.
“The continued violation of religious, media, and political freedoms is another proof that the lifting of the US sanctions was only a means of granting an umbrella for the regime to continue its oppression [of the people] in all its forms,” the statement reads.
The opposition party called on “all political forces, unions, civil society and pressure groups to condemn this brutal attack against our Christian brethren”.
Freedom of religion is sanctioned by the Sudanese Constitution. Christians in the country however, are increasingly prone to oppression, in particular since the Christian-majority south seceded from the north in July 2011. Since that time, reports concerning discrimination and persecution of Christians, demolition of church buildings and schools increased.
The Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced in April 2013 that no new licenses would be granted for building new churches in the country, pointing to the return of many South Sudanese Christian refugees to their country.
In September 2014, a clergyman told Radio Dabanga that the Sudanese Council of Churches did receive many complaints about discrimination of Christians. “They are systematically obstructed to visit their churches.”
According to the World Watch Monitor, the Sudanese authorities are now attempting to intervene in the affairs of several denominations in the country by removing church leaders, and instead appointing Christians affiliated with the regime.
The European Union Special Envoy for the Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief Jan Figel, visited Sudan mid-March to inquire about the situation of Christians in the country. He pointed to the planned demolition of 27 church buildings in Khartoum which was delayed after a court appeal.
The chairman of the parliamentary Legislation and Justice Committee, Ahmed El Tijani, told Figel at the time that Sudan does not impose any religious belief or practice on its citizens. He said the churches were demolished for land-ownership reasons.
On 3 April, the courtyard of the Evangelical Church and School in Omdurman witnessed the killing of a church elder against the backdrop of a conflict between the Sudanese Ministry of Guidance, an investor and the church over land.
A Sudan Democracy First Group (SDFG) report about discrimination against Sudanese Christians 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.