The transitional constitution provides for separation of religion and state, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides religious groups freedom to worship and assemble, organize themselves, teach, own property, receive financial contributions, communicate and issue publications on religious matters, and establish charitable institutions.
In October, a member of the Transitional National Legislative Assembly (TNLA) ordered the burning of a Seventh-day Adventist church in Warrap State. In March, South Sudan People’s Defense Force (SSPDF) troops occupied a church in Central Equatoria State belonging to a detained pastor who had posted a prediction on social media that the President and First Vice President would be removed from office. Authorities had arrested the pastor in July 2021 and held him in prison for more than a year without charges before bringing charges on September 30. In January, an ongoing conflict between two rival Episcopalian factions in Jonglei State resulted in gunmen attacking the Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan (ECSS), as well as two of his colleagues at St. Peter Church in the state capital. Youth militia loyal to a rival Episcopalian faction who stated they believed they were the rightful leaders of the Episcopalian Church in Jonglei State carried out the attack, the third since early 2021. Senior members of the government ordered the leaders of the opposing groups to travel to Juba, the seat of the ECSS, to resolve the internal church leadership conflict.
In March, the government charged a Catholic priest and five other men with conspiring in the 2021 attempted killing of an Italian priest nominated by the Vatican to be bishop of Rumbek. Police arrested the priest and the other individuals, and following the trial, the Juba High Court sentenced four persons to prison terms ranging from four to seven years. Two of the six individuals arrested were released. Media reported a number of attacks on clerics, including the killing of a church elder and the destruction of several religious buildings, in ethnic clashes in Aneet market on the border of Abyei Special Administrative Area and Warrap State, and the attempted killing of the Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan in Jonglei State. In both instances, religious organizations sought to work in partnership with state and local government authorities to create dialogues and peace-building initiatives within impacted communities to resolve ethnic and inter-denominational tensions. The country’s religious institutions remained a crucial source of stability in an otherwise unstable country. Religious leaders stated that a diverse network of Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim domestic and international organizations frequently provided noncombatants shelter from subnational conflicts throughout the country. For example, local and international Catholic and Protestant organizations provided assistance to internally displaced persons (IDP) fleeing continued violence in Upper Nile and Unity States at the UN Malakal Protection of Civilians site and at the Bentiu IDP camp.
The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officials repeatedly raised concerns with government representatives regarding a lack of the rule of law, increasing subnational conflict, impunity for violent crimes, and reports of human rights abuses and their impact on religious workers. The Ambassador and other embassy representatives promoted religious freedom through discussions and outreach with religious leaders and civil society organizations and ongoing series of religious leader roundtables hosted by the Ambassador starting in August.