Church property belonging to the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) in Kosti, White Nile State, and Kadugli in South Kordofan State has been taken over by members of a committee convened in violation of the church’s constitution. Furthermore, a SPEC church leader based in Kadugli is facing criminal charges initiated by members of another illegally constituted committee.
In Sudan, church committees recognised by the Ministry of Guidance and Endowments, which oversees religious affairs, are legally empowered to control a church’s affairs. During the al Bashir era, the government abused this provision in order to retain significant control over the internal processes of churches and to further restrict the rights of Christians. Interference in church affairs was commonplace and was primarily undertaken by National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) officers, who pitted Christians against each other. The government would subsequently claim that disputes such as those concerning different committees were an internal church matter that did not involve the state.
In the case of the SPEC church in Kosti, members of the illegally-constituted committee gained access to the church building on 27 December 2021 and changed the locks, preventing access to the properly-constituted committee. When the church attempted to file a criminal complaint, local law enforcement officers failed to investigate the matter, as they deemed the perpetrators were authorised to act on behalf of the church.
In Kadugli a SPEC church leader has been charged with impersonating others and criminal trespass after he objected to the attempt by an illegally-constituted committee to commence the sale of church property. The case bears a striking similarity to that of fellow SPEC leader Rafat Obid, who was arrested in June 2021, and accused by a member of an illegally-constituted committee in his church of false representation.
Both cases emerged in the aftermath of a court decision in November 2021 that dismissed an agreement that had been reached between the SPEC and the Ministry of Guidance and Endowments for administrative control over the church’s affairs.
While improvements in the situation of freedom of religion or belief occurred following the removal of former President al Bashir in April 2019, the aftermath of the 25 October coup has been marked by the appointment to official roles of individuals connected to the former ruling party, and the undermining of efforts by transitional institutions to hold the former regime to account.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “CSW is concerned by news of further action that undermines freedom of religion or belief and increases the harassment of minority religious or belief communities in Sudan. The November 2021 decision by the court can be attributed directly to the long history of government interference in the affairs of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church. It is deeply worrying to note cases involving illegally-convened committees have spread beyond the capital and into White Nile and South Kordofan states. The situation of human rights generally, and of freedom of religion or belief particularly, continues to deteriorate amidst the political crisis and the military’s machinations. We urge states that are in bilateral dialogues with the Sudanese military to press for an end to human rights violations and interference in the affairs of religious institutions in the country.”