While the Western media obsesses over “Islamophobia,” the real persecution is happening elsewhere.
Few Christians in Sudan will enjoy Christmas this year as government authorities continue to crackdown on churches and parishioners alike.
Just a week before Christmas, security forces arrested Reverend Kowa Shamaal and Reverend Hassan Abdelraheem from the Sudan Church of Christ denomination at their homes in Khartoum North and Omdurman, respectively. No reason for the arrest has been given for the two church leaders who come from the Nuba Mountain region in South Kordofan State, according to news reports.
On October 17th, government officials warned the administration of the Lutheran church in Al-Thawra, Omdurman, that it will be demolished because they want to restructure the area. Without media attention except for a few Facebook posts and pleads from churchgoers, Sudanese authorities bulldozed the 33-year-old church building just three days later. “They gave us a notice that the church will be demolished after 72 hours,” said Pastor Gabriel Koko of the Omdurman Lutheran Church. Pastor Koko added that they were in the process of attempting to register the church when the demolition happened.
“The government asks you for consent from the local committee which in turn will not agree unless the higher council for Dawah and Guidance gives permission and vice versa, you are lost in the middle,” the frustrated pastor told Nuba Reports. Now parishioners worship outside in Omdurman’s blazing sun, singing hymns with the rubble of their church piled next to them. Two more churches were destroyed that month after alleged arsonists burnt down another church in Gedaref, Eastern Sudan, and security officers illegally demolished another church in Al-Thawra, Omdurman, according to human rights reports. “The Lutheran church in Gedaref was demolished by the police in 2006, then rebuilt and now burnt to ashes, nothing remains of the church which had a 300-member constituency,” said Samir Makeen, a lawyer closely involved in this case. Makeen travelled to eastern Sudan to follow-up on the case proceedings and found that the police force was largely uncooperative.
“The case file at Rowena police station cites an unknown assailant although I believe that the police can easily catch the arsonists, but they seemed unprepared to do anything regarding this case,” added Makeen who has worked on similar cases before.
South Sudan’s independence and the fate of Christianity in Sudan
The Gedaref-based church is at least the third church to be set ablaze while another four churches were demolished or partially demolished since a referendum in January 2011 that led to South Sudan’s independence from the country. Just a month before the referendum, Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir told supporters in Gedaref that Sudan will not be religiously diverse if South Sudan separates and the constitution will only be guided by Shariah law. “On the eve of South Sudan’s secession in July 2011, Sudanese phone users received a text message (from the state-influenced telecommunication companies) saying that Sudan is now 97% Muslim and since then we’ve felt that we don’t have a place in this country,” said Samia Joseph*, a Nuba human rights activist.
In April 2013, the Minister of Guidance and Endowments, Al-Fatih Taj El-Sir, announced in parliament that no new licenses would be granted to build churches in Sudan, citing a decrease in the mainly Christian South Sudanese population, according to news reports. While those in South Sudan started to enjoy the opportunity to practice their faith without oppression since independence in 2011, Christians in Sudan have faced greater religious persecution. Even the Christmas holiday has become challenging to celebrate. “Christmas is no longer a holiday in Sudan, Christian civil servants and students used to get three days off work, but now we can’t even celebrate Christmas properly. Last year the police stopped our celebration at four p.m.,” added Joseph. M.M., a Nuba hailing from Um-Dorein county in Southern Kordofan State and affiliated with a church in Omdurman said authorities have essentially stopped acknowledging the existence of other religions other than Islam after the 2011 secession.
“They cancelled Christian studies from public schools and many parents had to resort to the church for religious teachings,” said M.M. who insisted on using her initials to protect her security. Nabil Adib, a well renowned human rights lawyer, said that 2012 saw a sustained escalation of religious persecution in Sudan in the form of land-grabbing and demolishing of churches and mass arrests of church-related employees, including foreign and Sudanese pastors. “Since then, around 200 foreign pastors or church-affiliates were rounded up and arrested by the security apparatus and were given two choices, either leave the country and give up all belongings or continue to be detained and face charges,” said Adib adding that all of them chose the first option and fled the country.
State security’s infamous “religious security” unit have arrested dozens of Christian leaders, including five Anglican pastors in Khartoum after the Anglican Cultural Center was shut down and all the books in its spacious library were confiscated.
In 2014, three churches in Khartoum states were demolished under Bashir’s zero-tolerance policy towards religious pluralism. The policy also acts as a veneer for land-grabbing opportunities with investors affiliated to the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), according to several Christian sources in the capital. The Pentecostal church on Sayed Abdel-Rahman street in Khartoum, for example, lies on a valuable and very expensive piece of land which was sold as a house in the 1990s.
Adib was involved in the land sale for the church almost two decades ago and again involved when state security took over the church land last year without recourse to the law. “We filed a constitutional case citing the illegal acquisition of the Pentecostal church without any allegations for persecution on religious basis” said Adib who added that they have received no response for almost a year now. National security currently occupy this land, one of the most expensive plots in the capital, Adib said, even confiscating personal belongings found on the land, such as cars. The Anglican Church in Khartoum North faces a similar fate after the state replaced a democratically-elected Church committee in 2014 with a government-appointed one in a bid to acquire the large Church land plot….