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Evangelical church leader arrested in Khartoum

30 Jun 2021

Rafat Obid, a leader of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) in Khartoum, was arrested, charged with ‘impersonating others’ under Article 113 of the Criminal Act, and released on bail on 28 June.

Mr Obid, who also leads the church’s council, which is responsible for the its lands and properties, has been accused of falsely representing himself as the leader of the Evangelical church. The allegation was made by members of an illegally constituted committee that had been authorised to act on behalf of the church by the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowments under former president Omar al Bashir. In 2017, Mr. Obid was acquitted by the Omdurman Criminal Court of the same charge filed by the same complainant.

Despite the political changes and an improved relationship with the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowments, the government department has not officially recognised the committee led by Mr Obid as the legitimate body to administrate on behalf of the church, leaving him and SPEC open to malicious prosecution by the illegitimate committee.

In September 2015, the Khartoum Administrative Court ruled that the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowments made an error in authorising the illegally constituted committee and should have authorised the committee led by Mr Obid to administrate on behalf of the church. The 2015 ruling has yet to be actioned despite the change in government. In 2020, the Ministry dissolved all the committees appointed during the previous regime.  Nevertheless, they have continued to operate.

During the al Bashir era, interference in the affairs of churches was commonplace and primarily led by National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) officers who pitted Christians against each other. Whenever these cases came to light, the government would claim that it was an entirely internal matter that did not involve the state. However, in authorising which committee could act on behalf of a religious organisation, the State retained significant control over the internal processes of religious organisations and used these committees to further restrict the rights of Christians.

CSWs Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “Mr Obid’s arrest is an unwelcome reminder of the relentless harassment and interference that church leaders experienced during the al Bashir era.  We call for these unfounded criminal charges against Mr Obid to be quashed and for the government to penalise the complainants in such malicious prosecutions. The Transitional Government must urgently review the processes of the Ministry of Guidance and Endowments, and of its practice of authorising committees to administrate on behalf of religious organisations as a matter of urgency.  By delaying recognition of the legitimate committees of the Sudanese Presbyterian Evangelical Church and other denominations, the government is continuing to facilitate the arbitrary deprivation of their property.   We call on the Transitional Government to correct the errors of previous administrations, and to end the long legal battles that these churches have fought to regain control of their affairs by recognising their legitimate committees. We also call on Sudan’s international partners to raise concerns about regressive developments on the situation of human rights, and freedom of religion or belief in particular, during their dialogues with the Transitional Government.” 



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