Summary paragraph: A member of the government-appointed ECC of the SPECS killed a SPECS elder during an altercation. Plainclothes police reportedly witnessed but did not intervene in the attack, and then arrested the alleged attacker, whose trial was pending at year’s end. A Khartoum court in January convicted a Czech Christian aid worker, a Sudanese Church of Christ pastor, and a Sudanese student from Dafur of crimes including espionage and “warring against the state.” The three were pardoned separately in February and May. While authorities permitted the Czech aid worker to immediately leave the country, the two Sudanese were eventually allowed to leave the country after intense international pressure prompted the government to lift the travel ban imposed on them at their release. Evangelical Protestant groups, including the SPECS and the SCOC, continued to oppose the government’s involvement in internal disputes about continued sale of church lands to investors, the detention of clergy and other religious leaders, and the inability of Christian groups to seek legal recourse. On August 23, the NISS arrested seven SCOC church leaders and interrogated them for six hours, reportedly for refusing to comply with an August 14 government order to hand over church leadership to a government committee. The leaders reportedly were released on bail after authorities told them to comply with the government order, which they rejected. On October 22, police briefly detained and later released five SCOC church leaders after they refused to cancel prayer services at the Harat Church in Omdurman. The government reportedly charged them with disturbing the peace. There were reports of authorities arresting, intimidating, and detaining Christian clergy and church members on religious grounds, denying permits for the construction of churches, closing or demolishing existing churches and church schools, censoring religious materials and leaders, and restricting non-Muslim religious groups and missionaries from operating in or entering the country.
On April 3, a member of the ECC stabbed and killed SPECS elder Yonan Abdullah during an altercation between ECC supporters and opponents within SPECS over control of the SPECS-operated Omdurman Evangelical Church School. According to SPECS members, the ECC supported government efforts to sell off church properties to private investors; the SPECS members accused the government of interfering in the internal affairs of the church. Yonan was among a group of SPECS members protesting against ECC efforts to take control of the school. Eyewitnesses reported that plainclothes police officers at the school did not intervene in the attack but arrested the alleged attacker whose trial was pending at year’s end. From February to April police arrested more than 60 SPECS members opposed to the ECC’s efforts to sell the school. The government denied the accusation that it was behind the April 3 attack and attributed the incident to “internal feuding between two Christian administrative boards.” At year’s end, the government had not implemented a 2015 court decision stipulating that only a SPECS-appointed entity could govern the property decisions of the SPECS Church in Khartoum, and not the government-recognized ECC, which continued to sell the church’s land to private investors throughout the year. As of year’s end, the government had implemented neither a February Constitutional Court ruling that the government-recognized ECC was illegal, nor the court’s order for the ECC’s dissolution.
On January 29, a Khartoum court convicted Czech Christian aid worker Petr Jasek, Sudanese Church of Christ pastor Hassan Abdelrahim, and Sudanese student Abdelmoneim Abdumaula, from Darfur, of eight crimes, including espionage and “warring against the state.” On January 29, a court sentenced Jasek to life imprisonment, and Abdelrahim and Abdumaula to 12 years’ imprisonment. The men had been in detention since their initial arrest in December 2015. They had reportedly donated money to fund medical treatments for Ali Omer, a Darfuri student injured during antigovernment demonstrations in 2013, and documented alleged abuses against Christians who said they were persecuted in the Nuba Mountains and Darfur. Authorities arrested Jasek at Khartoum Airport when he attempted to leave the country with photos and documentation of abuses against Sudanese Muslims who converted to Christianity. Authorities said Jasek had illegally entered Sudan via South Sudan and provided money to rebel movements, and that Jasek, Abdelrahim, and Abdumaula conducted interviews and took pictures without obtaining prior governmental permission.
Following pressure from the international community and the arrival in Khartoum of Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir pardoned Jasek, who returned to the Czech Republic on February 26 after 14 months in NISS custody. On May 11, President Bashir pardoned and released Abdelrahim and Abdumaula following sustained international advocacy on their behalf, but the government banned them from obtaining passports and leaving Sudan. Following further international pressure, the NISS and Ministry of Interior lifted the travel ban on the two men in October. While in detention the three men were transferred multiple times with no reason given to various NISS detention facilities and were finally held in Al Huda Prison during their trial. All three men reported prison officials physically abused them and kept them in poor conditions. Jasek additionally said he suffered from several medical problems caused by his poor treatment in prison.
On January 19, the MGE reportedly appointed Angel Alzaki to head a government-backed Executive Committee of the SCOC, effectively removing Yacoub Tilian from SCOC’s leadership position. On August 23, the NISS arrested seven SCOC church leaders and interrogated them for six hours, reportedly for refusing to comply with an August 14 government order to cede church leadership to a government committee. The leaders reportedly were released on bail after authorities told them to comply with the government order, which they rejected. SCOC Head of Missions Pastor Kowa Shamaal and SCOC Moderator Ayoub Mattan were among the seven church leaders arrested for challenging the order. Shamaal was previously arrested in December 2015 with Petr Jasek, Hassan Abdelrahim, and Abdelmoneim Abdumaula but was acquitted of all charges and released in January.
According to Morning Star News, on September 22, the NISS arrested SCOC Elder Mahjoub Abotrin at his home in Omdurman. They interrogated him and released him the same day without charges. According to SCOC sources, Abotrin was arrested for his refusal to turn over the leadership of the SCOC to government appointees. The mandate of the current leadership expires in March 2018. The SCOC constitution calls for a general assembly every three years to appoint church leaders. Some observers stated a factor in the government’s intervention was that most SCOC members are ethnically Nuba, from the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan state, where the government was fighting a continuing insurgency. The observers said the government has accused ethnic Nuba of supporting the 2011 secession and continuing conflict in the areas adjacent to the border with South Sudan and has thus targeted them for their religious and ethnic affiliations. On October 22, police briefly detained and later released SCOC Moderator Reverend Ayoub Tiliyan, Reverend Ali Haakim Al Aam, Pastor Ambrator Hammad, evangelist Habil Ibrahim, and Elder Abdul Bagi Tutu for refusing to cancel prayer services at the Harat Church in Omdurman. The government reportedly charged them with disturbing the peace.
According to reports the Public Order Police frequently charged women with “indecent dress,” and there were numerous court convictions. Religious leaders and government officials confirmed that Muslim and Christian women were fined and lashed on a daily basis in Khartoum for wearing pants and other dress considered indecent by the Public Order Police.
International and domestic human rights observers continued to express concern that 2015 legal amendments widening the definition of apostasy targeted and discriminated against minority Muslim groups, especially Shia, whose practice of Islam differs from that of the Sunni majority. Many individuals from Muslim minorities, such as Shia or Quranist groups, reported that their places of worship have remained closed since 2014. They also stated that they needed to keep a low profile regarding their places of worship, as well as religious events and gatherings. Some Shia reported they remain prohibited from writing articles about their beliefs. In August government officials accused a Shia man of espousing “non-Sunni” religious beliefs. Reportedly, the man signed a written statement of repentance under pressure from the government. Persons continued to reference the case against 25 Muslims who faced the death penalty in 2015 on charges of apostasy for following the “wrong” version of Islam and who were acquitted in early 2016.
The Public Order Police arrested journalist Marwa Altijani on September 24, after she published two satirical articles on a popular website discussing religious concepts, including the divinity of God. She also reportedly wrote that it was not wrong to be a lesbian. Authorities charged her with apostasy under the relevant articles of the Criminal Code and released her two days later. They later dismissed the charges against her based on their assessment that she was psychologically unfit to stand trial.
In May the Omdurman sector prosecutor filed apostasy and public disturbance charges against Mohamed Salih Aldisogi after he attempted to change his religion on his state identification documents from Muslim to “nonreligious.” The prosecutor dropped all charges against Aldisogi after a state-appointed psychiatrist examined him without his consent and concluded he was not mentally competent to stand trial.
On October 1, police arrested Salafist preacher Muzamil Fageeri in front of his house in Khartoum State and charged him with apostasy after lawyers accused him of insulting the Prophet Muhammad, his companions, and wives while lecturing at the Musaab bin Omair dormitory in Khartoum. Police released Fageeri several days later. Independent observers stated they believed police arrested him because of a personal dispute between Fageeri and another imam.
On August 15, police evicted Reverend Yahia Nalu, pastor of the SPECS Omdurman church, and another minister who was living with Nalu and his family. from their home where Nalu and his family had lived for one year and a half. Police later arrested Nalu and held him for one day for “criminal trespass” after he refused to leave his home. The Administrative Court denied Nalu’s appeal of his eviction on August 20, and his legal counsel decided to take his case to the Supreme Court. Nalu’s trial began in November, but the judge repeatedly postponed hearings for administrative reasons.
There were reports government security services continued to monitor mosques closely for Friday sermon content. Observers stated authorities provided talking points and required imams to use them in their sermons.
Prisons provided prayer spaces for Muslims, but authorities did not allow Shia prayers independent of Sunni prayers. Shia prisoners were permitted to join prayer services led by Sunni imams. Some prisons, such as the Women’s Prison in Omdurman, had dedicated areas for Christian observance. Christian clergy held services in prisons, but access was irregular.
The government continued to state it did not have non-Muslim teachers available to teach Christian courses in public schools. Some public schools excused non-Muslims from Islamic education classes. Some private schools, including Christian schools, received government-provided Muslim teachers to teach Islamic subjects, but non-Muslim students were not required to attend those classes.
According to various church representatives, the government skewed its decisions on permit issuances for houses of worship towards mosques. Some churches reported they were less willing to apply for land permits or to construct churches given the government’s previous repeated denials. The government attributed its denial of permits to the churches not meeting government population density parameters and zoning plans.
Local parishioners reported that, compared to Islamic institutions, Christian places of worship were disproportionately affected by zoning changes, closures, and demolitions. The government said places of worship that were demolished or closed lacked proper land permits or institutional registration. The government stated mosques, churches, schools, hospitals, and residences were all affected equally by the urban planning projects. Sources estimated at least 24 churches, Christian schools, libraries, and cultural centers were “systematically closed,” demolished or confiscated by the government between 2011 and 2017.
In May government authorities demolished the SCOC in Khartoum (also known as Soba Al-Aradi church). In December 2016 the government issued a written notice to the Church, stating it had no legal right to the land on which the church was built in 1986. The Sudanese Council of Churches (SCC) and lawyers appealed on behalf of the church. While the church’s case was still pending in May, authorities appeared during a Sunday morning service to demolish the church. Parishioners and neighbors prevented the complete razing of the church by standing in front of the demolition vehicle until authorities left the site. Some of the church walls remained standing, but the church was rendered unusable. News of the demolition circulated widely on social media. As of year’s end, the church neither received compensation nor relocated elsewhere in Khartoum.
Two weeks after the demolition of Soba Al-Aradi church, authorities carried out the demolition of a large brick wall surrounding the Dihinat SCOC in the Kalakla sector of Khartoum State. A man dressed in a military uniform reportedly told church leaders that he had bought the land on which the church stood, as well as an adjacent plot. As of year’s end, the church building remained partially demolished.
During the July visit of Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, government officials told Welby they had formally cancelled a July 2016 order from the Khartoum State Government to demolish 25 churches the government had repeatedly denied existed. The government did not demolish any of the 25 churches by year’s end.
In August the state government made a request to five pastors that they demolish their churches – two SCOC churches, two Episcopal churches, and one Baptist church – located in Jaboronna Camp outside of Khartoum. The reason provided was that the Khartoum State Ministry of Physical Planning had begun rezoning the surrounding area three weeks earlier than announced and had already demolished several nearby homes. The pastors demolished their church buildings accordingly on August 3, based on verbal guarantees from government officials that the churches would be compensated and granted land elsewhere in Khartoum. Church leaders confirmed that the government provided temporary places of worship to each of the five pastors until they were fully compensated for the demolished churches. These were the first such reports of government provision of temporary places of worship to Christians pending compensation. There were no reports of compensation to two demolished churches (one Catholic and one Presbyterian) in Soba County of Khartoum State in December 2016, which authorities stated were on publicly owned land.
Unknown intruders on broke into the home of a human rights lawyer who defended multiple pastors in religious freedom trials on August 19, while his family was out of town. The individuals broke the metal locks on his steel door, took all of his English-language files and academic papers, and two removable flash drives. They also took his family’s television, his two children’s guitars and laptops, and his wife’s jewelry. In October 2016 unknown assailants also broke into his home and smashed all of the windows and mirrors; no belongings were taken. The lawyer was forced to relocate his family as a result of the intrusions. Observers alleged that authorities may have been responsible for both incidents.
The Church of Jesus Christ in Aliza, Khartoum North, continued to seek restitution for the government’s demolition of its church building in 2014 due to what the MGE said was lack of proper land permits and registration. According to the SCC, the church had not received compensation, and authorities continued to prevent it from constructing a new building.
The government continued to state that church demolitions were purely a land administrative issue that impacted not only churches, but also mosques, hospitals, schools, and private homes, but did not provide examples of mosques being destroyed during the year. The NISS noted the locations of other churches and mosques it was tracking which were located on what the government referred to as “unplanned areas” in Khartoum State. Christian leaders and lawyers said that gaining outright land titles remained very difficult given that the government legally continued to own all land, and thus the legal status of churches remained unclear.
In July the Khartoum State Ministry of Education ordered Christian schools (except for Coptic schools) to operate on Sundays in order to adhere to the national general schedule of operations mandating that schools operate from Sunday to Thursday. Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour publicly expressed concern that the order would damage the country’s international reputation. Members of the Khartoum State parliament also voiced opposition to parliamentary Deputy Speaker Mohamed Hashim, and told the Khartoum State minister of education the decision to cancel the Sunday holiday was not well studied. The order remained in place at year’s end; Coptic schools continued to be exempted. Local authorities reportedly threatened schools planning to oppose the order and resume Saturday instruction, although no schools reported they had been sanctioned for noncompliance. Schools temporarily increased instruction hours during the week in order to remain closed on Sundays and still meet the required hours of annual instruction. Schools and parents voiced concern that this was unsustainable for schools and students, and feared that schools would need to open on Sundays to alleviate the burden on teachers and families. Religious rights groups, including the SCC, stated the order could prevent Christian students from attending worship services and prevent parents from raising their children as Christians. In September approximately 60 parents of Christian and Muslim students who studied at Christian schools gathered outside of the Council of Ministers in Khartoum to protest the order requiring the schools to operate on Sundays.
The government continued to restrict some religiously-based political parties, including the Republican Brothers Party, which opposes the government’s use of sharia as a source of law. The Political Parties Affairs Council, which oversees the registration of political parties, refused to register the party, and the party’s leader filed a case in the Constitutional Court, which remained pending at year’s end.
Government officials continued to state Islamic principles should inform official policies and often pointed to sharia as the basis for the country’s legal framework. President Bashir and other senior figures frequently emphasized the Islamic majority of the country.
The government continued to restrict non-Muslim religious groups from operating or entering the country and continued to monitor activities and censor material published by religious institutions. The MGE said it granted a limited number of Christian missionary groups permission to engage in humanitarian activities and promote Muslim-Christian cooperation.
The government denied Christian churches or their humanitarian institutions tax-exempt status. Christian churches reported authorities required them to pay or negotiate taxes on items such as vehicles.
Leading officials from various churches reported the government refused to grant, or delayed renewing, work and residency visas to church employees of foreign origin, including missionaries and clergy, or to individuals it thought would proselytize in public places. This reportedly had a particularly negative impact on the Catholic Church whose clergy are mostly of foreign origin, while most clergy of other Christian denominations are ethnically Sudanese. The government only granted residence permits with less than a year’s validity. According to Catholic Church officials, the government continued to maintain restrictions on the entry of foreign clergy. In October the government issued 30 visas and residence permit renewals to Church personnel (clergy and nuns) after a six-month delay, representing only a portion of the international staff requested by the Church. Approximately 25 foreign missionaries left the country during the year due to protracted delays in obtaining visas and/or renewing residence permits. The government required clergy to pay a 70 Sudanese pounds (SDG) ($8) fine for every day they were not in residency status, approximately 12,600 SDG ($1,400) over six months.
The government closely scrutinized those suspected of proselytizing and used administrative rationales, or other aspects of the law such as immigration status, to either deport or exert financial pressure on such individuals. As a result, most non-Muslim groups refrained from public proselytizing.
Some religious groups reported the government barred the import of unapproved religious texts, and said most Christian denominations were unable to import teaching materials and religious texts as guaranteed by the constitution. According to a Morning Star News Service report in October, authorities in Port Sudan continued to detain a shipping container with Arabic language Bibles destined for Khartoum for two years without explanation.
A small number of Christian politicians, the majority of whom were members of the Coptic Church, continued to hold seats in the government.
Christian groups continued to call for a Christian director in the MGE Office of Church Affairs. The MGE-appointed director as of year’s end was a Muslim.