Reverend Yahia Nalou, leader of the Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church’s (SEPC’s) Synod, was arrested on 21 August, charged with trespass for allegedly entering his office in the Synod building, and released on bail later that day. Reverend Nalou has denied the charge.
The case against the reverend was brought by a government-backed church committee, which is trying to seize control of church affairs and has sold church buildings to private investors.
Although the Sudanese government is attempting to portray these events as an internal church dispute, in March 2013, the Ministry of Guidance and Endowments had authorised the committee, which was convened in violation of church procedure, to act on the SEPC’s behalf. The committee went on to sell church buildings to local Muslim businessmen against the wishes of the legitimate committee and the Synod, the church’s governing body.
The legitimate church committee was elected in accordance to the church rules and is chaired by Mr Rafat Obid. However, it has been unable to resume its work, despite an August 2015 ruling in its favour by the Khartoum Administrative Court, because it lacks formal recognition from the Ministry of Guidance and Endowments. Furthermore, Mr Obid and other members of his committee are on trial accused of fraud and misrepresentation for stating they are the legitimate SEPC committee members. The trial began in January 2017, and is ongoing.
The case against Reverend Nalou was originally filed in April 2017 by Yosef Matar, a member of an illegally-convened SEPC committee. In the same month, the illegally-convened committee evicted Reverend Nalou from his office in the SEPC Synod building after selling the property to investors. It also obtained a court judgment to evict Reverend Nalou from his church-owned home in Omdurman on 13 August, after that property was also sold to investors.
On 15 August, local officials evicted Reverend Nalou and his family from their home and placed all their belongings outside the property. After the eviction order was enforced, Reverend Nalou and some members of his family camped outside the property in protest at the eviction. Local sources informed Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) that the arrest of Reverend Nalou may have been designed to remove him from the premises in order to allow investors to access and demolish it.
Reverend Nalou denies entering the Synod office after the April 2017 eviction. A lawyer representing him states that the original trespass complaint was filed without specifying the name of the trespasser or where the trespass occurred, allowing the illegally-convened committee to amend the file and accuse any individual at a future date.
CSW’s Senior Press Officer Kiri Kankhwende said: “CSW is deeply concerned by the criminal case initiated against Reverend Nalou. The charges against him are baseless, and are further evidence of the politicisation of the criminal justice process, and the continuing harassment of religious leaders. They should be dropped unconditionally.”
So far the illegally-convened committee has sold or attempted to sell the Khartoum Bahri Evangelical School, the Evangelical School in Omdurman and several homes used by clergy. On 3 April, Younan Abdulla, a 28 year-old SEPC elder, was fatally stabbed by Shamon Hamoud, the treasurer of the illegally- convened committee, during a peaceful protest against the illegal sale of the Evangelical School in Omdurman. Mr Hamoud was charged with the murder and the first hearing of his trial was held on 14 August. However, there are concerns that the people who accompanied Mr Hamoud to disrupt the protest were not added to the case.
“The decision by the Ministry of Endowments to authorise a committee convened in defiance of the church’s governing body to act on behalf of the denomination is an unwarranted intrusion into church affairs. It also violates regional and international statutes to which Sudan is party by infringing on the right of members of a minority religious community to profess and practice their religion. CSW urges the African Union and European Union to remind Sudan of its regional and international obligations to protect freedom of religion or belief. The decision to recognise a committee lacking in legitimacy should be reviewed as a matter of urgency; the sales conducted by the committee must be declared invalid, and the monies accrued by it must be returned to the purchasers,” Kiri Kankhwende added.