Church leader arrested in Sudan for preaching to Muslims

Lutheran reverend Yousef Zamgila (L) speaks to members of his congregation at the small improvised church they helped set up in a neighbours yard in Omdurman, Khartoums twin city, on August 22, 2019. Sudan's Christians suffered decades of persecution under the regime of Islamist general Omar al-Bashir. | JEAN MARC MOJON/AFP via Getty Images

JUBA, South Sudan — Authorities in southeastern Sudan on Friday arrested a church leader for preaching to Muslims, according to a local Christian group.

Yousif Ayoub Hussein Ali was detained during an open-air worship event in the Blue Nile state capital of Ad-Damazin, according to a press statement from the local General Union of Christian Youth.

Ali was accused of inciting religious hatred and preaching to Muslims, though there is no law in Sudan against proclaiming one’s faith, said a local source whose name is withheld for security reasons. Area Muslims expressed fear that his preaching would encourage their children to convert, the source said.

The arrest violates religious rights and international treaties to which Sudan is a party, the General Union of Christian Youth stated.

“We condemn this unethical behavior which is not in line with the international treaties,” the group’s statement read.

The transitional civilian-military government that came into power following the end of the 30-year Islamist dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir in 2019 outlawed the labeling of any religious group “infidels” and thus effectively rescinded apostasy laws that made leaving Islam punishable by death.

Following two years of advances in religious freedom in Sudan and the undoing of some sharia (Islamic law) provisions, the specter of state-sponsored persecution returned with the military coup of Oct. 25, 2021.

The General Union of Christian Youth called the arrest of Ali a continuation of systematic violations against the rights of Christians in Sudan and called for his immediate, unconditional release.

While persecution of Christians by non-state actors continued before and after the 2021 coup, actions by the state have seen a bump in Sudan. In Al Jazirah state, authorities in El Hasahisa town on Nov. 21 arrested and jailed a church leader on charges of “witchcraft” for leading a prayer meeting. Pastor Abdalla Haron Sulieman was leading a prayer meeting for his mother, who suffered from an infection in her legs that kept her from walking, when authorities walked into the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church church site and arrested him.

In North Darfur state, a Christian leader went into hiding earlier this month after his family recruited Muslim extremists to kidnap and presumably get him jailed for leaving Islam.

In Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, Sudan was ranked No. 10, up from No. 13 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 also 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 its Special Watch List. The State Department removed Sudan from the Special Watch List in December 2020.

Sudan was previously designated as a CPC from 1999 to 2018.

With the Oct. 25, 2021 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 2021.

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, 2021, coup.

The Christian population of Sudan is estimated at 2 million, or 4.5% of the total population of more than 43 million.

Morning Star News is the only independent news service focusing exclusively on the persecution of Christians. The nonprofit's mission is to provide complete, reliable, even-handed news in order to empower those in the free world to help persecuted Christians, and to encourage persecuted Christians by informing them that they are not alone in their suffering.

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