JUBA, South Sudan, (Morning Star News) – After bulldozing a Lutheran Church of Sudan (LCS) building on Oct. 21, authorities in the Karari area of Omdurman demolished the SCOC building on Oct. 27 without prior warning, church leaders said. Local authorities said the SCOC building was on government land, a claim church leaders adamantly denied.
“It seems that the government is systemically targeting churches in these times,” one church leader told Morning Star News. “They did not give us notice before the demolition.”
Church leaders said they have filed a complaint with the Ministry of Religious Guidance and Endowment but have received no response.
Karari officials in Omdurman, across the Nile River from Khartoum, reportedly authorized the demolition of the church building claiming it was built on government land allocated for a field. In the demolishing of the LCS church on Oct. 21, the local authorities said it was built on land allocated for business, though a mosque stands nearby.
The SCOC church, which has 120 members, was established in 1998.
SCOC church leaders said they would find it difficult for their congregation to find a place for Bible study and Sunday services in coming weeks. The Sudanese Minister of Religious Guidance and Endowments announced in April 2013 that no new licenses would be granted for building new churches in Sudan, citing a decrease in the South Sudanese population.
Members of the SCOC church said they had decided to hold Sunday worship in the open air at a nearby field early in the morning, before temperatures climb.
SCOC church leaders said they were issued ownership papers for the land but have been hard-pressed to find them.
“We are not happy with the act of demolition, but we cannot do anything now, given this difficult situation,” a church leader said.
In spite of the ban on new licenses for church buildings, church members were contributing funds toward a new worship structure for worship. The Sudanese government’s decision to issue no new church building licenses came after South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July 2011, when President Omar al-Bashir vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language.
Sudanese authorities on Feb. 17, 2014 demolished another SCOC church building in Omdurman without prior notice. Bulldozers accompanied by local police and personnel from of Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) destroyed the worship building in the Ombada area of Omdurman, sources said.
Sudan since 2012 has harassed and expelled foreign Christians and bulldozed church buildings, usually on the pretext that they belonged to South Sudanese. They have also raided Christian bookstores and arrested Christians.
On Aug. 24, 2014, NISS agents padlocked the building of the 500-member Sudan Pentecostal Church (SPC) in Khartoum, which housed the Khartoum Christian Center (KCC).
Sudan fought a civil war with the south Sudanese from 1983 to 2005, and in June 2011, shortly before the secession of South Sudan the following month, the government began fighting a rebel group in the Nuba Mountains that has its roots in South Sudan.
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 the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended the country remain on the list in its 2015 report.
Sudan ranked sixth on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2015 World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face most persecution, moving up from 11th place the previous year.
Besides recent government demolitions of church buildings, suspected Muslim extremists in Sudan’s eastern city of Al Qadarif set fire to an LCS church on Oct. 16.
Christians in Sudan are calling upon the government of Sudan to stop targeting churches for demolition.
“We urge the government to look into this issue seriously,” a church leader from the SCOC said.
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