JUBA, South Sudan — Police in Sudan walked into a church Bible class on Tuesday (June 14) and arrested two Christian leaders for “violating public order,” their attorney said.
Officers in Omdurman, across the Nile River from Khartoum, took Pastor Kabashi Idris of the African Inland Church and evangelist Yacoub Ishakh of the Independent Baptist Church into custody in the presence of those at the Bible study at the Baptist church in the Hai Al Thawra West area of the city, said attorney Shinbago Awad.
Charged with violating public order under Article 77 of Sudan’s penal code, they were released on bail the same day, he said.
“They were accused by a radical Muslim neighbor who filed a case against them at the police station in the area, prompting the police to arrest the two church leaders,” Awad said. “The radical Muslim told police his children were singing the songs of the Christians and feared they might convert to Christianity.”
Last month the radical Muslim whose house is near the church building filed a complaint of disturbing the peace, ostensibly because the church was worshiping in song, Awad said. Police on May 19 summoned and interrogated the two church leaders and released them.
A guilty verdict could result in a prison sentence of up to three months, a fine or both, and the court could issue an order to cease worship services, Awad said.
Following two years of advances in religious freedom in Sudan after the end of the Islamist dictatorship under Omar al-Bashir in 2019, the specter of state-sponsored persecution returned with a military coup on Oct. 25, 2021.
After Bashir was ousted from 30 years of power in April 2019, the transitional civilian-military government managed to undo some sharia (Islamic law) provisions. It outlawed the labeling of any religious group “infidels” and thus effectively rescinded apostasy laws that made leaving Islam punishable by death.
With the Oct. 25 coup, Christians in Sudan fear the return of the most repressive and harsh aspects of Islamic law. Abdalla Hamdok, who had led a transitional government as prime minister starting in September 2019, was detained under house arrest for nearly a month before he was released and reinstated in a tenuous power-sharing agreement in November.
Hamdock had been faced with rooting out longstanding corruption and an Islamist “deep state” from Bashir’s regime — the same deep state that is suspected of rooting out the transitional government in the Oct. 25 coup.
Persecution of Christians by non-state actors continued before and after the coup. In Open Doors’ 2022 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, Sudan remained at No. 13, where it ranked the previous year, as attacks by non-state actors continued and religious freedom reforms at the national level were not enacted locally.
Sudan had dropped out of the top 10 for the first time in six years when it first ranked No. 13 in the 2021 World Watch List. The U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report states that conditions have improved somewhat with the decriminalization of apostasy and a halt to demolition of churches, but that conservative Islam still dominates society; Christians face discrimination, including problems in obtaining licenses for constructing church buildings.
The U.S. State Department in 2019 removed Sudan from the list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) that engage in or tolerate “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom” and upgraded it to a watch list. The State Department removed Sudan from the Special Watch List in December 2020. Sudan had previously been designated as a CPC from 1999 to 2018.
The Christian population of Sudan is estimated at 2 million, or 4.5% of the total population of more than 43 million.