The Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church (SEPC) is facing interference in its internal affairs from the government ministry responsible for religious affairs in Sudan, which has refused to allow the denomination’s land and buildings committee to act on its behalf despite a court order recognising its legitimacy.
In March 2013, an illegally-convened lands and buildings committee was recognised by the Ministry of Guidance and Endowments as the official group charged with administering the SEPC's affairs and was subsequently involved in the unlawful sale of church property to Muslim businessmen. On 3 April 2016, the illegal committee elected new members and renewed the terms of older ones, in violation of an August 2015 ruling by the Khartoum Administrative Court overturning the Ministry's’ March 2013 decision.
the legal ruling in its favour, the legitimate committee, chaired by Mr Rafat
Obid, was unable to resume its work without recognition from the Ministry of
Guidance and Endowments. If the recent elections are recognised by the Ministry
of Guidance and Endowments, this will nullify the August 2015 ruling as the
committee referred to in this judgment no longer exists in the same form; thus
the church will have to make fresh applications for a new judgement.
week prior to the election, Pastor Daniel Weliam, secretary of the legitimate
SEPC lands and buildings committee, was detained for three days. A week
earlier, 16 leaders and elders were summoned to the local police station, held
for questioning and released later on the same day. An arrest warrant was
reportedly issued for Mr Rafat Obid but has not yet been executed.
elections, the illegal committee has stated its intention to sell all remaining
SEPC property, including church buildings and schools, which would effectively
close down church operations. In addition, an unnamed member of the committee
claimed in the local media that Christians who complain of persecution merely
seek to undermine Sudan’s image internationally because in reality their rights
and freedoms are fully guaranteed.
These developments occur at a time when church leaders in
Khartoum and Omdurman are facing a campaign of repression that some feel is
designed to pressurise members of the community into leaving the country. Six clergymen and
two lay members from three denominations have been arrested by the National
Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) since December 2015.
Those arrested include Christian activist and member
of the Khartoum
Bahri Church, Talahon Nigosi Kassa Ratta. Mr Ratta was involved in
organising protests against government interference with SEPC property. He was
arrested on 14 December 2015 and permitted one visit from his family at the end
of December 2015 at Kober prison. He has since been moved and remains in
detention without charge.
Following Mr Ratta’s arrest, Reverend Hassan Abduraheem of the Sudan Church of Christ was arrested on 19 December 2015 at his home. He remains detained in an unknown location without charge or access to a lawyer or his family. His wife is particularly concerned for his health as he suffers from stomach ulcers. She has regularly submitted requests to visit him but they have not been granted.
Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW),
said, “We are concerned to learn of the appointment of yet another committee,
in violation of church procedures and the court ruling. This development
appears to be part of an ongoing effort aimed not only at seizing property
belonging to the SEPC, but also at closing it down completely. We urge the
Minister of Guidance and Endowments, Dr Ammar Mirghani Hussein Mohammed, to
ensure that the ministry complies with the court's decision and recognises the
legitimacy of the committee chaired by Mr Obid. Furthermore, we call for an end
to the campaign of harassment targeting church leaders and members, and for the
immediate and unconditional release of Reverend Abduraheem and Mr Ratta. Their
detention for over three months without charge, and without regular access to
their families or a legal representative amounts to arbitrary detention and
violates the principles of fair trial articulated in article 14 of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sudan is party.”