Sudan: Church destroyed and young people arrested, pressure increases on Christians

Worshippers attend Sunday prayers in Baraka Parish church on the outskirts of Sudan's capital, Khartoum. Christians say churches are being targeted in the Muslim-majority country.REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

An evangelical church in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, was raided by police yesterday and 37 young members of the congregation were detained.

The episode marked an escalation of attacks on the church by the authorities, which had already demolished parts of the building.

Church leaders believe that the move is part of a concerted campaign against churches in the country, though the authorities say that the land is owned by investors who want to build a shopping centre.

According to the minister of the evangelical church in Khartoum North, Pastor Yahya Abdelrahim Falo, the police arrived in nine vehicles at around 6am yesterday. He told Radio Dabanga that some of them started to demolish the outer walls of the building while others arrested the young Christians praying and fasting inside.

Falo said that the 37 detainees were divided into three groups. Two groups were taken to separate criminal courts and each member was fined the equivalent of $35 for "public disturbance and the obstruction of an official in the performance of his duties". The remaining 15 youngsters were tried at a different court, where the judge acquitted them.

Falo said that what had happened was "a blatant infringement of Christian sanctities, and a humiliation of all Sudanese Christians". He demanded an immediate halt to the current demolition of the church.

Yesterday's event was not the first time the church had been targeted. On November 19, the house of its senior pastor was confiscated and the 'youth house' was demolished.

In response, leaders from Khartoum churches, students and church members staged protests, and prayed in the adjacent church for a peaceful resolution.

The secretary-general of the Sudan Council of Churches, Rev Kodi El Ramli, told Radio Dabanga early September this year that the Council has received many complaints about harassment and discrimination of Christians. "They are systematically obstructed to visit their churches," he said.

Among churches to have been closed or destroyed are the Sudan Pentecostal Church building in Khartoum and the Sudanese Church of Christ. Sudan has banned the construction of new churches.

Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, has instituted a strict version of Islamic law since the separation from the mainly Christian South Sudan in 2011. A Christian woman, Meriam Ibrahim, was imprisoned on the grounds of apostasy and became the focus of a huge international outcry leading to her eventual release earlier this year.

Bashir is the first sitting president to be indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, following Sudanese atrocities in Darfur.