A court in Sudan has ruled that government authorities must return land and property confiscated from an evangelical church seven months ago.
International Christian Concern reports that a court in the capital Khartoum has ordered authorities to release property belonging to the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church.
The property in is in the town of Hajj Yousef and was taken from the denomination in February after the church sitting on the property was demolished because the government claimed the land was public property.
Church leaders say that they bought the property from a local and the church was built in 1989.
"Other buildings lying in the same stretch as our church were spared during the demolishing because they belong to Muslims," the Rev. Yahiya Abdurrahman Nalu, told ICC. "It is this partial application of the rule of law that agitates us."
Nalu told ICC that the presiding judge also ordered authorities to give back confiscated Bibles, sound systems, furniture and other church-owned items.
"We see this as a great step toward justice which has remained elusive for a long time, and we hope they will deliver our items soon and in good shape," Nalu exclaimed.
ICC Regional Manager Nathan Johnson said that although rights advocates are rejoicing over the court's order to return the property, they "remain wary."
"We will wait until we hear that this church has received its property until we believe that the Sudanese government will uphold its own rulings in favor of this Christian community," Johnson said. "The authorities must also further these rulings by returning the land that they have stolen and ensure that the churches are able to rebuild. We will continue to pray and work on behalf of those in Sudan who are forced from their churches and property due to their faith. We hope to one day see true freedom in Sudan."
Sudan, a 97 percent Muslim country, ranks as the fourth-worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA's 2018 World Watch List.
The court's ruling comes as the Sudanese government has continually tried to confiscate church properties and close down churches. In 2016, the Sudanese government produced a list of about 25 churches that were to be demolished because of supposed zoning violations.
According to Middle East Concern, the evangelical church in Hajj Yousef was the first church on that list.
Open Doors reported that the Sudanese government closed down at least 20 churches during the 2018 World Watch List reporting period (Nov. 1, 2016, through Oct. 31, 2017).
Along with trying to close down churches associated with the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, the government has also targeted the Sudanese Church of Christ denomination.
In one instance, the government tried to force the SCOC leaders to give up denominational control to a government-appointed committee. When the leaders refused, several of them were arrested and criminally charged.
Earlier this month, a judge dismissed the criminal charges against the church leaders.
"We welcome the dismissal of charges against the elected leadership of the Sudan Church of Christ," CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in a statement. "This case demonstrates the politicization of the criminal justice system, resulting in religious leaders, who are upstanding members of the community, being forced to defend themselves against unwarranted criminal charges."