Muslims accused church members of hostility toward Islam by holding gatherings on Fridays, the Muslim day of mosque prayer.
Church leaders in Sudan were detained and questioned last month after Muslim extremists upset about the presence of their worship building locked it shut, sources said.
Hardline Muslims locked the building of the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) in Al Hag Abdalla, about 85 miles southeast of Khartoum in Madani, Al Jazirah state, on February 21, said Dalman Hassan, an SCOC evangelist arrested on February 27 and released along with the church pastor later that day.
Hassan said the Muslims accused church members of hostility toward Islam by holding gatherings on Fridays, the Muslim day of mosque prayer.
“They cause chaos and disrespect others’ religion”, read one of the charges against the church presented to Al Hag Abdalla officials, Hassan said.
Church member Kotti Hassan Dalman said the hardline Muslims also charged the church with providing food to children to win them to Christianity and with taking their land for the worship building.
Church members said the land belongs to a Catholic school, and that hardline Muslims fabricated the land-grab charge because they don’t want a Christian congregation worshipping in the area.
Police who arrested the evangelist and another leader identified only as Pastor Stephanou on February 27 requested and received ownership papers showing the land did not belong to the Muslims, church members said.
“We are urging the religious leaders and believers’ all over the country to pray for us,” church leaders said in a statement on social media.
Following two years of advances in religious freedom in Sudan after the end of the Islamist dictatorship under former President Omar al-Bashir in 2019, the specter of state-sponsored persecution returned with a military coup on October 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It outlawed the labeling of any religious group “infidels” and thus effectively rescinded apostasy laws that made leaving Islam punishable by death.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 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.
Hamdock was 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 October 25 coup. Persecution of Christians by non-state 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 number. 13, where it ranked 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 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 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% the total population of more than 43 million.
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