Sudanese Christians head to court over attempt to defend confiscation of church property

Wikimedia Commons/David StanleyThe St. Matthew's Cathedral in Khartoum, Sudan is featured in this image.

Four Sudanese Christians were tried in court last Wednesday for their attempts to stop the confiscation of church property in Khartoum.

Morning Star News reported that the Christians have been charged with causing physical harm to police officers and supporters of a Muslim businessman who wanted to takeover a school belonging to the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC).

Azhari Tumbara, Muna Matta, George Adam and Kudi Abderhman are facing fines and prison term of up to six months if found guilty.

Attorney Adam Abu Anja, who is representing the Christians in court, said he is confident the court will not hand down the maximum sentences against his clients.

"I am confident – the charges are not that serious. We have enough witnesses that, if they are convicted, they might be fined, that is all," Anja told Morning Star News.

During the hearing, Judge Adam Babiker acquitted five church leaders also accused in the case due to lack of evidence.

According to Morning Star News, the acquitted leaders were the Rev. Yahia Abdelrahim Nalu, the Rev. Idriss Kartina, the Rev. Zachariah Ismael, elder Bolus Tutu and Salim Hassan.

The Sudanese government has been pressuring church leaders to relinquish control of church property to state-sanctioned committees.

In April last year, church elder Younan Abdullah died from stab wounds after he tried to prevent the confiscation of an evangelical school in Omdurman.

In February this year, a court handed down fines ranging from 2,500 Sudanese pounds (US$137) to 5,000 Sudanese Pounds (US$275) to seven church leaders for opposing the takeover of their school in Ombdurman. At least 26 church leaders have reportedly been charged in the case.

In addition to the confiscation of church property, the Sudanese government has also demolishing churches belonging to SPEC.

In February, a SPEC church was demolished by the authorities, even though there was still a pending appeal in court.

Government officials argued that the church did not have a proper permit, but SPEC leaders maintained that they had the proper legal documents.

The demolition of churches in Sudan comes after the Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced in 2013 that the government would no longer issue licenses for new churches due to the decrease in the South Sudanese population. At least 27 churches were designated for destruction in 2017.

Last November, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan called on the Sudanese government to "immediately suspend" the demolition of churches. The EU Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ján Figel, also called attention to the demolitions when he visited the country in March last year. During Figel's visit, he was told that some of the demolitions had been halted.