The Presbyterian Church USA recently reached out to President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials urging them to use their resources to ensure that the rights of two Sudanese pastors facing possible execution for preaching the Gospel are upheld in Sudan.
South Sudan Presbyterian pastors Yat Michael and Peter Yein Reith are on trial in Sudan for various crimes including: responsibility for joint criminal acts, undermining the constitutional system, waging war against the state, disturbing the peace, blasphemy, agitating hatred, espionage and unlawfully obtaining and disclosing official documents.
Three of the charges — undermining the constitutional system, espionage and waging war against the state — are all considered crimes against the state and are punishable by a life sentence or death, according to Kathy Melvin, director of communications for the Presbyterian Mission Agency a division of PCUSA.
"Their trial has begun, but no decision has been made," Melvin told The Christian Post on Friday.
He further confirmed that both pastors "were arrested after preaching" in late 2014 and earlier this year, and stated that Gradye Parsons, the PCUSA's clerk, has written to the president and other U.S. officials urging them to use their resources to protect the rights of Michael and Reith.
"We've been partners with the South Sudan Presbyterian Church for many years. Michael and Reith were attending a church service in Khartoum at the Bahri Evangelical Church and at the end of the worship service they were arrested by the National Intelligence Service of Sudan," said Parsons to CP on Monday. "We're quite concerned about them because the [government] is treating them like they are spies, which we don't believe they are."
They are being tried under Article 38 of Sudan's 2005 interim constitution which is supposed to uphold religious freedom. As a member of the United Nations, the government of Sudan is also obligated to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which provides for freedom of religion, according to Melvin.
Michael and Reith's trial is on hold and will resume on June 15.
Parsons hopes U.S. officials will influence the Sudanese government to slow down the judicial process and raise awareness for the story of these two pastors so that the government will think before doing something "drastic" to them. He expects U.S. officials to get back to him with an acknowledgement letter by next week.
Michael is married with two children, a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old, and Reith is married and has a 1-year-old daughter. Reith is in charge of an orphanage in South Sudan.
The South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church recently noted that this type of persecution is common in the country.
"This is not 'something new' for our church," said Rev. Tut Kony, pastor of the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church. "Almost all pastors have gone to jail under the government of Sudan. We have been stoned and beaten. This is their habit to pull down the church. We are not surprised. This is the way they deal with the church."