JUBA, South Sudan — Authorities in Sudan arrested and jailed a church leader last Monday on charges of “witchcraft” for leading a prayer meeting for his ailing mother, sources said.
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 in El Hasahisa town in Al Jazirah state walked into the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church church site, area sources said.
His mother, 60-year-old Aisha Adam, was healed after he prayed for her, and others from the predominantly Muslim area began crowding in for healing. The meeting angered Muslim extremists who persuaded police to arrest the pastor on charges of claiming to be a witch doctor (Case No. 6737/2022 under the Sudan Criminal Code of 1991.)
“This is a serious violation against Christians in Sudan,” said evangelist Francis Ismail, who visited the pastor on Nov. 24.
Sudanese Christians took to social media, some demanding the pastor’s immediate release, and others terming the jailing more evidence of ongoing and systematic persecution of Christians in Sudan.
“We need to continue to pray for our brother because he is jail for the sake of the gospel,” said one Sudanese Christian on his Facebook page.
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 the military coup of 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 It outlawed the labeling of any religious group “infidels” and thus effectively rescinded apostasy laws that made leaving Islam punishable by death.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, 2021 coup, Christians in Sudan fear the return of the most repressive and harsh aspects of Islamic law. Abdalla Hamdok, who led the 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.
Persecution of Christians by nonstate 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 nonstate 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 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.
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