JUBA, South Sudan (Morning Star News) – A judge in eastern Sudan today ordered a Christian school that government officials had taken over to resume classes under the prior Christian administration, according to the headmaster.
The Appeal Court for Administrative Affairs in Madani, Al Jazirah state, thus cancelled an order by the Madani commissioner calling for the closure of the Evangelical Basic School, which armed police along with civilians from Khartoum and elsewhere had seized on Oct. 24, the Rev. Samuel Suleiman Anglo, headmaster at the school, told Morning Star News.
“The court has ordered that the school continue to function with the current administration without interference from the commissioner,” Pastor Suleiman said. “Things are normal, thank God.”
The court delivered the final order for re-opening after ordering a temporary re-opening earlier this month, he said.
The Oct. 24 government seizure marked the third raid on the school, following efforts to seize it on Oct. 4 and Sept. 5. On Oct. 6, authorities jailed for four days Christian staff members who tried to prevent the seizure of the institution, which serves more than 1,000 students, ages 3 to 18, and belongs to the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church.
Armed police and officials from the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) on Sept. 5 temporarily arrested Pastor Suleiman and 12 teachers at the school, accusing them of supporting the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N), a rebel group fighting government forces farther south in the Nuba Mountains state of South Kordofan. Pastor Suleiman strongly denied the charge.
In the Sept. 5 raid, police presented a letter from the National Ministry of Guidance and Endowments, addressed to the State Ministry of Social Welfare, ordering the handover of the school to the government. School administrators and teachers are ethnic Nuba – increasingly targeted by a government that has vowed Islamic religion and Arabic culture will reign in Sudan – and from South Kordofan state.
A court for administrative affairs earlier this month had responded to school officials’ pleas by ordering the immediate, temporary re-opening of the school to allow students to take exams, Pastor Suleiman said. Judge Thalot Madani Ishakh issued the court order, which allowed students to resume classes last Tuesday (Nov. 8).
The re-opening came after court hearings on Nov. 7 and 8. The court found that the attempt by the Madani commissioner to close down the school and appoint a Muslim teacher to run it was inappropriate, Pastor Suleiman said.
He said the school had written a letter to the government urging officials to reconsider their decision to close the school. Parents also asked the judge to request the government to reopen the school.
Pastor Suleiman said the government had appointed its own principal, a Muslim identified only as Misbah, to take over and run the school.
Arrested on Oct. 6 along with the Pastor Suleiman was the Rev. Ismail Zakaria and seven other teachers who objected to the takeover of the school. The nine Christian staff members were detained until Oct. 9 before being released on bail, accused of resisting authorities. Civilians who came from Khartoum, 166 kilometers (102 miles) west, and other parts of the country to forcibly take control of the property acted with the help of five policemen, sources said.
Harassment, arrests and persecution of Christians have intensified since the secession of South Sudan in July 2011. The Sudanese Minister of 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. Sudan since 2012 has expelled foreign Christians and bulldozed church buildings on the pretext that they belonged to South Sudanese.
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. The rebels in the Nuba Mountains were formerly involved with the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) forces fighting Khartoum before the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
Fighting between Sudan and South Sudan broke out in June 2011, when Khartoum forcefully attempted to disarm the SPLA-N in South Kordofan by force rather than awaiting a process of disarmament as called for in the CPA. When the CPA was signed in 2005, the people of South Kordofan were to vote on whether to join the north or the south, but the state governor suspended the process.
Ethnic Nuba, along with Christians, face discrimination in Sudan, where President Omar al-Bashir has vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language.
The Nuba people have longstanding complaints against Khartoum – including neglect, oppression and forced conversions to Islam in a 1990s jihad – but as Sudanese citizens on the northern side of the border, they were never given the option of secession in the 2005 peace pact between northern and southern 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 2016 report.
Sudan ranked eighth on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2016 World Watch List of countries where Christians face most persecution.
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