Sudan Bans Freed South Sudanese Pastors from Leaving Country

NISS said to be behind orders preventing them from boarding plane.

The Rev. Yat Michael and Rev. Peter Yen Reith during trial. (ACLJ)

The Rev. Yat Michael and Rev. Peter Yen Reith during trial. (ACLJ)

JUBA, South Sudan (Morning Star News) – Two South Sudanese pastors released on Wednesday (Aug. 5) after about eight months in jail have been banned from leaving the country, according to one of the attorneys who defended them against crimes calling for the death penalty.

The Rev. Peter Yein Reith and the Rev. Michael Yat were acquitted of the capital crimes but convicted of lesser charges, and they were released on the time they had served. The attorney clarified that Reith was convicted under Article 65 of “establishing or participating in a criminal organization” (not breaching the peace as previously reported), while Yat was convicted under Article 69 of “disturbing public peace” (not inciting hatred as previously reported).

The two pastors were preparing to board a plane with their families on Thursday (Aug. 6) when Khartoum International Airport authorities stopped them. The attorney said Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) ordered the ban when they were initially detained – Yat on Dec. 14 and Reith on Jan. 11 – and gave the orders to the airport personnel.

A relative asked for prayer.

“They have been prohibited from leaving Khartoum, but we are working now with their lawyer, and your prayers are very needed,” the relative said.

The pastors’ attorney on Sunday (Aug. 9) appealed to the judge in their case to lift of the ban, but they were told that the court had no authority to rule since the ban was imposed by the NISS, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

Attorneys were to meet today (Aug. 10) with NISS, but MEC indicated getting NISS to lift the ban would be difficult.

“If the travel ban was instigated by the Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Service, the judge will have no jurisdiction, and the lawyer will have to petition the NISS to have it lifted,” MEC advocates said last week. “This would be much more difficult.”

The South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SSPEC) pastors had also been charged with spying (Article 53), punishable by death, life imprisonment or prison and confiscation of property; undermining the constitutional system (Article 50), punishable by death, life imprisonment, or imprisonment and confiscation of property; disclosure and obtaining information and official documents (Article 55), punishable by two years in prison or a fine; blasphemy/insulting religious creeds (Article 125), punishable by one year of imprisonment or a fine or no more than 40 lashes; and joint acts in execution of a criminal conspiracy (Article 21).

Agents from NISS, said to be manned by hard-line Islamists, arrested the pastors.

Michael was arrested after encouraging Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church; the church was the subject of government harassment, arrests and demolition of part of its worship center as Muslim investors have tried to take it over. Reith, 36, was arrested on Jan. 11 after submitting a letter from SSPEC leaders inquiring about the whereabouts of Michael.

(This story was updated on Aug. 10, 2015.)

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