CHRISTIANS are once again persecuted by the military junta in Khartoum. International mediators must not ignore the threats against religious leaders and the destruction of churches, motivated by the regime’s intolerant Islamist ideology.
In 2019, it looked like decades of persecution had finally come to an end for Christians in Sudan. Marshal al-Bashir, charged with genocide in Darfur by the International Criminal Court, was ousted. A transitional government has pledged to abolish laws that discriminate against millions of Christians living in Sudan.
Almost a year ago, however, an Islamic-military junta took power (News, October 29, 2021). Once again, church property is attacked and confiscated, and leaders are harassed and detained. Sudanese Christians are appealing for help from the international community.
Under al-Bashir, the Christian affairs department was headed by a Muslim who worked closely with the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). The Catholic Club became the headquarters of the ruling National Congress Party (the renamed National Islamic Front); the inner church of Sudan became the offices of the NISS; and the Tijani Al-Mahi Hospital was removed from the Episcopal Church.
A Sudanese religious leader who remains anonymous for his own safety maintains that the NCP junta has appointed ostensibly Christian cronies in the department. They allegedly signed rental contracts on behalf of Sudanese churches that were unfair, to the benefit of party members and NISS agents.
The transitional government has promised to restore ownership of religious buildings and abolish the apostasy section, Article 126, of the Sudanese Penal Code of 1991. Yet security agents continue to loot churches and arrest people who have converted. Thousands of Sudanese Muslim survivors of the Darfur genocide became Christians because, in the words of a church elder, “Christian charities helped them, while Muslim-led governments did not defend them. , in large part because they were considered black Africans and not Arabs”.
The short-lived transitional government issued a constitutional declaration that guaranteed Christians the right to equality before the law, protection from discrimination, and freedom of religious belief and worship. The new law on fundamental rights and freedoms prohibits labeling any group as infidels. The United States has duly removed Sudan from its list of countries of particular concern and its special watch list.
SINCE the restoration of military rule, however, security agents have attacked and tortured religious leaders, and destroyed and confiscated church property. In one case, a pastor from Darfur and his three children died in mysterious circumstances after a visit by armed security agents.
In August 2020, a church in the Jabrona area of Omdurman was destroyed by arson, following four attacks between December 2019 and January 2020. In January 2021, a church in Tambul, Aljazeera state was burned down in an arson attack that was never investigated. . Last July, four Christians from Zalingi, Darfur, were charged with apostasy under the old Article 126, and eventually released.
The Episcopal Diocese of Abyei is in a contested border enclave attacked by both Sudan and South Sudan, despite the presence of UN peacekeepers. The Bishop of Abyei, South Sudan, the Most Reverend Michael Deng Bol says, “The people of Abyei feel left behind, abandoned by both countries. It is difficult to understand why the diplomats did nothing.
The founder of the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART), Baroness Cox, who visits us regularly, says: “The scale of the suffering and the depth of the grief are overwhelming. They resent the inability of peacekeepers to provide adequate protection. The conflict will almost certainly spiral out of control.
Sudan specialist Gill Lusk explains that fundamentalist ideology is once again playing a central role in the military junta, with the return of civilian Islamists from the overthrown al-Bashir regime. Osama bin Laden was protected for years by the al-Bashir regime and, although the United States and the UN applied sanctions, the international community gradually came to accept a certain level of Islamist repression – as long as it did not directly affect their own country. .
Ms Lusk fears that the international community will repeat previous mistakes. “At the moment, most diplomats still talk as if the junta is military rather than Islamist – and therefore open to serious negotiations,” she said.
Ms Lusk points out that the hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters who toppled al-Bashir’s regime in 2019 were almost entirely Muslim. They continue to demonstrate peacefully by the thousands, shouting anti-Islamist slogans and demanding civilian rule and justice. Dozens were shot, hundreds were seriously injured, and security services chased the injured to hospital to gas them.
The British government and British Christians should lobby diplomats to hold Sudan to its obligations to uphold international conventions on freedom of religion and belief.
The West has a leverage effect on Khartoum: inflation in 2021 was 359% and the economy has come to a standstill, with massive debt and high unemployment. Sudan needs foreign investment and economic aid.
We must support Sudanese civil society in its calls for responsible civilian government and free and fair elections.
Rebecca Tinsley is the founder of human rights group Waging Peace. A full list of verified attacks can be found here