Sudanese clergyman Reverend Hassan Abduraheem and activist Abdulmonem Abdumawla, who were serving 12 year prison sentences for espionage, have received a presidential pardon and were released today.
The men were convicted in January, along with Czech national Petr Jašek, of “ . In February, Mr Jašek, who was the main defendant in the case, received a presidential pardon and was released from prison. During his visit to Khartoum in March Jan Figel, the EU Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief outside the European Union, called for a Presidential pardon to be extended to Reverend Abduraheem and Mr Abdumawla.
Following the release of Mr Jašek, the legal grounds for the continued imprisonment of both men were seriously weakened. Lawyers representing Reverend Abduraheem and Mr Abdumawla had filed an appeal against their conviction; however, the presidential pardon suspends all further proceedings in the case and means they have been freed unconditionally.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “We welcome the release of Reverend Abduraheem and Mr Abdumawla, and are pleased they are finally able to return to their families after 17 months in detention. However, their case highlights our profound concerns regarding the rule of law in Sudan and the politicisation of the criminal justice system by the National Intelligence and Security Services, which pursued the case against them. We continue to call for the government to review and reform the powers of this body and to end the targeting of religious and ethnic minorities on spurious grounds.”
Reverend Abduraheem and Mr Abdumawla have been in detention since December 2015. At times they were held incommunicado, with no access to their families, lawyers or medical treatment.
The questionable case against them centred on the provision of $5,000 for the medical treatment of Mr Ali Omer, a Darfuri student who was severely injured during a student demonstration in 2013. The prosecution alleged the $5,000 donated by Mr Jašek for Mr Omer’s treatment was in reality support for rebel movements in the South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur regions. By framing the case in this manner, the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) attempted to exploit the fact that Reverend Abduraheem and a former co-defendant, Reverend Shamal, are from the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan, while Mr Abdumawla is from Darfur.
The release of the men comes at a time of increased government pressure on ethnic and religious minorities in Sudan. On 7 May, the last remaining church in the Soba Arabi district in the south east of Khartoum was demolished. The church belonged to the Sudan Church of Christ (SCOC) denomination, in which Reverend Abduraheem served as a minister and vice moderator prior to his arrest in December 2015.
Thomas added: “The demolition of the SCOC church in Soba Aradi underscores the pressures Christians are facing in Sudan. We urge the government to review the current demolition orders to ensure they comply with Sudan’s domestic and international human rights obligations. We also call on the African Union, European Union, and United Kingdom to encourage the Sudanese government to protect the right to freedom of religion or belief for all of its citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs.”