The government continued its efforts to prosecute suspected proselytizers; these efforts increased markedly when South Sudan gained its independence in 2011. Subsequently, most non-Muslim groups refrained from public proselytizing. In December 2012, police arrested two Coptic priests and briefly detained a Coptic bishop for reportedly converting a Muslim woman to Christianity. The Coptic Church later issued an apology for the incident, and called the actions of the two priests an “individual affair;” the two remained in prison without charge until their release in June.
In November there were reports a Sudanese Christian lawyer and religious freedom activist had fled the country after Sudanese security forces seized his home, detained him, and threatened him with death if he failed to register with the security services every day.
In June a spokesperson for the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC) stated the Council had not received any formal complaints from constituent churches regarding government persecution. Reportedly, however, treatment of various Christian groups often depended on that Christian community’s relationship with the government, with the Copts generally receiving the best treatment and South Sudanese Christian churches receiving poorer treatment.
The government closed or demolished churches and prayer centers constructed without permits, especially in mixed Muslim/Christian areas when Muslims complained of new church construction.
In April the government expelled the Secretary General of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, allegedly because of his irregular visa status. In the same month the government shut down an Arabic language school and deported a French missionary working at that institution. Observers widely suspected the government used administrative reasons to deport those suspected of proselytizing.
There were reports Christian orphanages were under increasing government pressure to reduce their capacity and cease accepting male orphans; the orphanages also found it more difficult to obtain foreign-based funding under new government restrictions.
During the year a senior Christian church official stated the government had refused visas and residence permits to individuals it thought would proselytize in public places.
There were reports government security services closely monitored mosques. The authorities imposed sanctions ranging from stern official warnings to arrest and detention of imams accused of making anti-government statements, inciting hatred, or espousing violent or takfiri ideology (a form of Salafism that brands as an apostate anyone who does not follow the Salafist interpretation of Islam). In May the security services released a member of the Association of Islamic Scholars they had arrested in 2012 for accusing the country’s president of being an apostate from Islam.
Government officials continued to use Islamic rhetoric to support official policies. President Bashir and other senior figures frequently alluded to the Islamic identity of the country, noting the separation of South Sudan further entrenched the country’s Islamic characteristics. The government announced the new constitution would draw heavily from Islamic law.
Unlike past years, there were no reports of blasphemy or defamation cases during the year.
Government officials stated future legislation would protect members of minority religious groups. In November the government invited Christian priests and civil society activists to Sudanese Initiative for Constitution Making (SICM) conferences. The participants discussed the historical protection of minority rights in constitutions across the world and advocated for inclusion of minority rights in the drafting of the forthcoming constitution.
During the year the government granted approval to the SCC to select six Christians to participate in the Higher Council for Peaceful Coexistence (HCPC), whose mission is to advance religious tolerance and promote the peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians. The HCPC met and engaged in outreach events throughout the year.
Some Christian churches reported they were required to pay taxes on items such as vehicles, even though official government policy mandated tax-exempt status for religious institutions.
The government edited material published by religious institutions, and it continued to monitor all such publications. This censorship targeted criticisms of government officials or policies.
In April the MGSE announced the existing number of churches could accommodate the worshipers currently in Sudan, and therefore refused to issue licenses for new churches. This mandate formalized a de facto ban that had existed for well over a decade. Southern Sudanese Christians, who had requests for new churches pending, protested the decision.
In August a 35-year-old female civil engineer and women’s rights activist was arrested on the outskirts of Khartoum for refusal to cover her hair in public after a police officer requested she do so. On November 4 she was charged with dressing indecently and immorally for refusing to cover her hair with a headscarf, based on the government’s interpretation of Islamic law. On December 3 the court dropped the charges.
In October the IPSP issued a fatwa stating the proposed execution of the convicted murderers of a U.S. diplomat was not in accordance with Islamic law because, by the reasoning of the fatwa, it is not in accordance with sharia to exchange the life of a Muslim with that of an “infidel” (non-Muslim). At year’s end only one of the four killers of the diplomat was in custody; another was believed killed in Somalia in 2011, and two remained at large.
Prisons provided space for Islamic prayer but no similar areas for Christian observance. Prison authorities, however, usually allowed Christian prisoners to pray while in prison and, in contrast to 2012, regularly allowed Christian ministers to hold services.
The government restricted foreigners from entering the country expressly for Christian missionary work. Some church officials reported the government refused work and travel visas to church employees of foreign origin. The MGSE said Christian missionaries had permission to engage in humanitarian activities and promote Muslim-Christian cooperation. Foreign Christian religious workers, however, experienced lengthy delays in obtaining entry visas.
Although the interim constitution prohibits discrimination against candidates for the national civil service based on religion, some prominent ministries, such as the Ministry of Petroleum, requested information on religious affiliation on their employment applications.
Prominent Coptic Christian politicians held seats in the country’s National Assembly and the Khartoum State Assembly and worked in Khartoum’s city government. A Copt served as Vice-Chairman of the Human Rights Commission, a government body, while a Protestant held the politically significant post of State Minister of Water Resources and Electricity. In December a Copt was appointed a minister of state, the only Christian in the government cabinet.
The government did not always actively protect the rights of religious groups. For example, there was no legal remedy for Christians whom employers (either government or private sector) or school (public or private) authorities refused to excuse from work or classes for Sunday morning prayers, although the refusal was a clear violation of the law.