JUBA, South Sudan (Morning Star News) – After months of bulldozing or taking over church buildings on the pretext that they belong to South Sudanese who are no longer citizens of the country, authorities are aiding a Muslim businessman’s effort to take over church property in Khartoum North, sources said.
Sudan’s police and security forces broke through the fence of Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church this month, beat and arrested Christians in the compound and asserted parts of the property belonged to the Muslim investor accompanying them, sources said.
As Muslims nearby shouted, “Allahu Akbar [God is greater],” plainclothes police and personnel from the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) on Oct. 5 broke onto the property aboard a truck and two Land Cruisers. After beating several Christians who were in the compound, they arrested some of them as well as Pastor Dawood Fadul of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC); they were all released later that day.
Authorities asserted that Muslim businessman Hisham Hamada El-Neel had signed a contract giving him a right to invest in land that is part of the church property. Church members were not told who gave him the contract, and they suspect the government is behind the move, sources said.
The church property is used for conferences, Christmas celebrations and other worship activities.
“This is a serious issue, and we are trying to stop it,” a source told Morning Star News by phone.
With help from authorities, El-Neel has seized part of a building attached to the worship hall and part of the hall itself, said the sources on condition of anonymity.
“Six more parts of the church property will be taken soon by the same Muslim tycoon,” a source said.
Church members in Khartoum North appealed to Christians worldwide to pray for them, saying they have continued to suffer under the Islamic government since South Sudan seceded from Sudan on July 9, 2011.
Besides raiding Christian bookstores and arresting Christians, authorities threatened to kill South Sudanese Christians who do not leave or cooperate with them in their effort to find other Christians (see Morning Star News, July 12).
Harassment, arrests and persecution of Christians have intensified since the secession of South Sudan, when President Omar al-Bashir vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language.
South Sudan’s secession has served as a pretext for Bashir’s regime to bulldoze church buildings formerly owned by South Sudanese and to deport Christians based on their ethnicity, sources said. In a report issued in April, Christian Solidarity Worldwide noted an increase in arrests, detentions and deportations of Christians since December 2012. The organization also reported that systematic targeting of Nuba and other ethnic groups suggests the resurgence of an official policy of “Islamization and Arabization.”
Due to its treatment of Christians and other human rights violations, Sudan has been designated a Country of Particular Concern by the U.S. State Department since 1999, and in April USCIRF recommended the country remain on the list this year.
On June 25 in Omdurman, opposite Khartoum on the River Nile, plain-clothes police raided the SPEC offices in what church leaders called a bid to take over the property. Without permission from government authorities, the officers entered the church compound and chased SPEC pastors and others out of the offices, a Christian leader said.
In apparent interference in church affairs, the officers said they had sided with some church officials in an administrative dispute and therefore were ordering church leaders to leave the premises or face arrest, said the Christian leader, who requested anonymity.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) noted the crackdown in a statement earlier this year.
“With the independence of South Sudan, senior Sudanese government officials have called for a more comprehensive and rigid application of Sharia law in Sudan, where southerners who are Christian have been subject to a range of religious freedom violations,” USCIRF stated. “In particular, there have been credible reports of the destruction of churches, refusal to permit construction of new churches and other forms of intimidation and harassment.”
South Sudanese lost citizenship in Sudan and were ordered to leave by March 1, 2012, but thousands have been stranded in the north due to job loss, poverty, transportation limitations and ethnic and tribal conflict in South Sudan. South Sudanese Christians in Sudan have faced increased hostilities due to their ethnic origins – though thousands have little or no ties to South Sudan – as well as their faith.
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