In a rare instance of good news for Christians in the Middle East and Africa, Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir made the unexpected decision last month to pardon a pastor and activist who had been imprisoned for over a year. But sadly, this isolated act does little to change the current state of persecution and violence Christians face in the region.
According to Sudanese news service Nuba Reports, Pastor Hassan Abdulrahim and Darfur activist Abdulmoneim Abdelmoula were released from Kober prison, a facility in the capital of Khartoum, on May 11. Both men had been shuffled between several prisons over the last 17 months. They were severing a 12-year sentence for to charges related to “undermining the constitution, espionage, and spreading false information,” their defense lawyer Muhanad Nur said.
“It’s hard to remain in prison all that time, especially when we think about our families,” said Abdulrahim upon his release. “But it was also a good experience for us – to help build up the church in prison and encourage parishioners.”
Since Kober is a facility that houses political opponents and terrorists alike, both Abdulrahim and Abdelmoula were incarnated alongside members of the Islamic State, who reportedly boasted of their attacks on Christians. While there was once a large Christian community in Sudan, the population sharply diminished in 2011 when South Sudan gained independence. Those remaining in Sudan have found themselves under constant threat in the proceeding years, thanks to a hostile government and lack of representation.
From Nuba Reports:
In April 2013, the Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced that no licenses would be granted for building new churches in Sudan, citing a decrease in the South Sudanese population. Two years later, government officials stiffened penalties for apostasy and blasphemy…
In [this] latest case, the accused’s sentences were largely based on their association with a Christian aid worker from the Czech Republic, Petr Jasek. Authorities arrested Jasek around the same time as Abdulrahim and Abdelmoula along with another Nuba pastor, Kuwa Shamal, who was released in late 2016 for lack of evidence…
All four faced considerable duress, shifting to several different prison facilities during their incarceration.
The release of Abdulrahim and Abdelmoula was certainly a welcomed respite for the long-suffering minority, but it came in the midst of an otherwise trying time. Sudanese officials recently ordered the demolition of several churches for reasons that remain unclear at best, and these cites join a list of 25 others that are scheduled to be destroyed because authorities claim they were built on land zoned for other purposes.
The current inhospitable treatment of Christians is seemingly at odds with an October 2016 conference held by the Sudanese government called National Dialogue, which Nuba Reports says was supposed to promote “religious diversity” and “the freedom of worship,” while ending “religious discrimination” in the country.
“You can’t imagine how this government works sometimes,” Nur said. “Human rights defenders, Christians, among others, are just locked up without any consideration of the consequences.”
Ultimately, Christians like Abdulrahim who remain in Sudan fear the worst for the future of their religion in the region.
“It’s a difficult time for us,” he said. “Even with our release from prison last week, we are still not free.”