Sudanese authorities rang in the new year by bulldozing a church building outside Khartoum because it belonged to Christians of South Sudanese origin and lacked a permit, a source said.
According to a story by Morning Star News, the South Sudanese have been ordered to leave the country following the new republic's secession from Sudan in July 2011. However, thousands are reportedly stranded in the north due to loss of jobs, poverty, transportation limitations and ethnic and tribal conflict in South Sudan.
The source told Morning Star News by telephone that officials from the Khartoum State Ministry of Physical Infrastructure accompanied by police on Jan. 2 demolished the building of the Sudan Pentecostal Church in Soba Al Aradi, a Khartoum suburb that began as a refugee camp for South Sudanese. The destruction came without warning as part of a government survey of the area, he said.
"We are surveying this area because it was not officially demarcated," a civil engineer surveying the area told area Christians, the source said.
"We are bulldozing this building because it belongs to a church whose members are South Sudanese, but they are no longer citizens of Sudan."
Morning Star News reported that officials said the South Sudanese in the area are there illegally, but Christians said the government is targeting churches in its stated objective of making Sudan a purely Islamic country.
A Presbyterian church building in Soba Al Aradi also is slated for destruction, and authorities have already demolished a pastor's house that was attached to it, the source said.
According to Morning Star News, officials told Pastor Mubarak Hamad of the Presbyterian Church of Sudan, an Arabic-speaking congregation, that he needed to apply for a property permit. Hamad is from the Nuba Mountains, an area of Sudan populated by many of South Sudan origin.
The Pentecostal church building that was reduced to rubble was also lacking official permission, Morning Star News said officials told church members. The church had erected the building on land donated by church members, who said they are victims of selective enforcement.
"I saw staff from the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure of Khartoum State with policemen in plain uniform, and a bulldozer destroying the church building," the source said.
Morning Star News said harassment, violence and arrests of Christians have reportedly intensified since the secession of South Sudan. It was then that Sudan President Omar al Bashir vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognise only Islamic culture and the Arabic language.
Morning Star News reported that church leaders say the government is targeting missionaries and expelling them from the country. Last month, Sudan arrested two Coptic priests for baptising a woman who had converted from Islam to Christianity. The whereabouts of the priests remain unknown, and security officials have refused to allow their families to visit them.
Hostilities against Christians in Sudan have so increased that the country jumped from 16th in 2011 to 12th last year on the 2013 World Watch List of nations where Christians face the most persecution, published by Christian support organisation Open Doors.
"The government and society try to squeeze Christians in all spheres of life, and the level of violence escalated in the past year," the report states.
Morning Star News said South Sudanese Christians in Sudan have faced increased hostilities due to their ethnic origins - though thousands have little or no ties to South Sudan - and their faith.
A 33-year-old university student of South Sudanese origin was imprisoned for three months last year after two Muslim women insulted him on a bus, according to a fellow student who requested anonymity.
He told Morning Star News that the women told George John Tangoon on August 28 that he was an "infidel," and should leave Sudan. When Tangoon objected, the furious Muslims ordered the bus driver to go to a police station.
Officers held him for three days at Hillat Kuku police station in Khartoum North, where the student said Tangoon was falsely charged with violating Public Order Article 77, which among other things requires men to give up their seats to women on public transport.
Morning Star News reported sources saying the Public Order Courts are frequently used to try Christians accused of violating Islamic laws that favour Muslims. Without benefit of a lawyer, Tangoon was sentenced to three months in prison, serving his time first at Kober Prison in Khartoum, then Omdurman Prison, and finally Soba Prison south of Khartoum.
He was released in late November.