Having deported scores of foreign Christians and demolished several church buildings in the past few months, Sudan continued ridding the country of Christianity this week by raiding Christian bookshops in Khartoum and arresting Christians, sources said.
Men who described themselves as agents of Khartoum State Security on Monday (Feb. 18) confiscated books, films and archives from the Evangelical Literature Centre, part of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) denominational headquarters, church leaders said.
"They took everything – not a single sheet of paper was left on the shelves," said one church leader. "They took the cinema, old movies and tapes and archives. They filled a big truck with our stuff from the ELC."
When SPEC leaders asked the security agents why they were taking the items away, they replied that they had "orders from above" to confiscate all Christian books, the church leaders said. The clergymen said they understood this to mean the government intends to make Sudan a solely Islamic country.
In the course of the raid, security personnel beat a church leader for taking photos, sources said. The following day (Feb. 19), national security agents arrested the church leader, whose name is withheld, and his whereabouts remained unknown at press time, a pastor told Morning Star News.
Prior to the raid, authorities of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) in Khartoum state sent a letter to SPEC leaders informing them of their plan to search the premises for Christian literature, according to the church leaders. They described the move as unlawful and unacceptable.
Security agents later confiscated two containers full of Christian books and Bibles at the SPEC headquarters adjoining the Evangelical Literature Centre.
Church leaders hope to meet with an official from the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowment about the raid. SPEC officials have decided to hold regular prayer meetings at the depleted Evangelical Literature Center.
"We continue to pray for God to strengthen our faith in these difficult times," a church leader told Morning Star News by phone.
In a related incident, national security agents on Feb. 14 went to an academic institution in Khartoum, forced open a container and confiscated Christian literature, a source said.
"They took three cartons of books," he said.
In addition, NISS agents on Feb. 15 went to another bookstore, whose name is withheld, and confiscated Christian books, sources said. Three Christians were arrested, including one foreigner; they were still in custody at press time.
In the past month authorities have also summoned church youth group leaders for interrogation, sources said. At least three were held for days, and after their release they have been ordered to report to NISS offices every day.
Authorities have arrested at least 55 Christians this month, according to aid and advocacy organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). The detained Christians have been falsely accused of receiving money from foreign countries, CSW reported, adding that a crackdown on Christians that began at the end of last year has led to the deportation of about 100 foreign workers.
Harassment, violence and arrests of Christians have intensified since the secession of South Sudan in July 2011, when President Omar al-Bashir vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language. South Sudanese have been ordered to leave the country following the new republic's secession, but thousands are reportedly stranded in the north due to loss of jobs, poverty, transportation limitations and ethnic and tribal conflict in South Sudan.
South Sudanese Christians in Sudan have faced increased hostilities due to their ethnic origins – though thousands have little or no ties to South Sudan – as well as their faith.
Besides arresting and deporting foreign Christians, the government has also demolished several church buildings.
Authorities on Jan. 15 and 16 destroyed seven church buildings in or near Khartoum, as well as a health center run by the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC), claiming that they belonged to South Sudanese who are no longer citizens of the country, sources said. Although the properties originated with South Sudanese, they now belong to citizens of Sudan, church leaders said.
"Christians in north Sudan are very worried and in a dangerous situation," one church leader said.
The demolished buildings belonged to Roman Catholic, Presbyterian Church of Sudan, Africa Inland Church, Episcopal Church of Sudan, Sudan Pentecostal Church and Seventh-day Adventist congregations, along with the SCC health center, sources said. Most of the buildings were in the Soba al Aradi area on the outskirts of Khartoum.
A pastor whose identity is withheld was arrested during a church service last month, the sources said; he was released after a few hours. Security personnel arrested two other leaders and a pastor's wife at another church on Jan. 22, accusing them of links to a Christian school in Omdurman, across the Nile from Khartoum.
The three Christians were still in custody at press time, the sources said.