The Orthodox Church in Sudan has been refused permission to build a place of worship on land it owns in Hay-Elrawda, Omdurman.
The decision to refuse permission was made by the Urban Planning Department, which claimed that the land is only authorised for residential purposes. A representative of the Urban Planning Department, Hassan Isa, informed the Orthodox Church that in order “for the church to be able to use their land as a place of worship they must change their registration from residential to commercial use and must seek the permission of all neighbouring properties. If two neighbours object to the plans, they are unable to proceed.”
However, local sources report that almost all places of worship, including mosques, are issued with residential registration certificates. The key difference is that mosques have been registered and used as places of worship for decades, while churches have faced obstacles in registering places of worship. Additionally, while Muslims are often permitted to use parts of their own homes as mosques, Christians are denied the right to do the same.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “We call for an urgent review of this case, and for the creation of a clear and non-discriminatory policy to govern the registration of places of worship. We urge Sudan’s Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowments to work with the Urban Planning Department to ensure all faith communities in Sudan are treated equally. The historic practice of designating property belonging to mosques and churches as residential, and subsequently penalising churches that want to use their property for a place of worship, is clearly discriminatory. It is a lingering injustice from the al Bashir era that must be addressed urgently, as it may affect hundreds of churches across Sudan adversely.”
In a separate development, the Sudanese Reformed Church is seeking to re-acquire land in Was-Albashir Camp, Ombada-51, Omdurman, that was allocated to it for a place of worship by the Urban Planning Department in 2008.
The Church claims that other residential and service properties, including a mosque, have already received their registration certificates, while it has been denied. Despite assurances from the Urban Planning Manager and a member of the Sovereignty Council, on 20 June an engineering team visited the area and informed the Church that its land was re-authorised by the Urban Planning Department in 2013 as a bus station.
Mr Thomas continued: “CSW calls for the immediate return of the property belonging to the Sudanese Reformed Church, and for its registration certificate to be issued. It is concerning that despite the intervention of a member of the Sovereign Council, the current planning processes are so complex that the Church is still unable to secure the return of its property. We also call on the Sudanese government to address the issues relating to church properties that were confiscated or re-allocated under the previous government. The Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowments must form a committee without delay to assess which properties fall into this category, and facilitate their return without subjecting each case to lengthy, complex and costly administrative processes.”