Arrest of Christian Workers in Sudan Serves Islamist Regime as Warning to Others
Christian workers imprisoned under charges related to tarnishing Sudan’s image are innocent, but their arrests serve the Sudanese government as a warning to others against criticizing the Islamist regime, sources said.
Foreign diplomats and international rights activists have taken notice of the case since Morning Star News in December 2015 broke the story of the arrest of two pastors that month. As part of a recent upsurge in harassment of Christians, Sudan accuses the Sudanese pastors and a foreign aid worker of “waging war against the state” and “spying” in the course of allegedly gathering information on persecution of Christians and on bombing civilians in the Nuba Mountains.
Prosecutors in Sudan this week presented flimsy evidence against the two pastors and the Czech medical-aid worker charged with crimes calling for the death penalty, a defense attorney told Morning Star News.
Prosecutors on Monday (Sept. 26) called on officials of Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) to present as evidence a video said to be taken from the computer of Czech aid worker Petr Jasek showing a foreigner talking with civilians from the Nuba Mountains area of South Kordofan, where an insurgency is fighting government forces, the attorney said.
“The prosecution presented a video whose content has nothing to do with the case against Jasek – it only showed a foreigner talking to some people in South Kordofan,” he said. “For certain, this shows a NISS policy to intimidate others into refraining from criticizing the government.”
Jasek and two Sudan Church of Christ pastors, the Rev. Kwa Shamaal and the Rev. Hassan Abdelrahim Tawor, are charged with trying to tarnish the image of Sudan’s government by collecting information on persecution of Christians and on genocide in the Nuba Mountains. The charges include collecting information for “other parties hostile to Sudan.”
They are accused of conducting intelligence activities and providing material support for Nuba rebels in South Kordofan under two charges that carry the death penalty – waging war against the state (Article 51 of the Sudanese Criminal Code) and spying (Article 53).
After showing an English-language video said to be recovered from Jasek’s laptop, the court on Monday (Sept. 26) postponed the hearing so that a translation into Arabic could be made.
The Voice of the Martyrs released a statement this week saying Jasek’s family has asked the aid organization to bring his case to the attention of U.S. Christians for prayer and advocacy.
“These men are not spies,” Voice of the Martyrs spokesman Todd Nettleton said in the statement. “They were not inciting a revolt. They aren’t pushing a political agenda. These four are simply trying to serve and help. Only tyrants consider helping people a crime, and the four men should be released immediately.”
Also charged is Abdulmonem Abdumawla of Darfur, who was arrested in December after he began collecting money to help a friend, Ali Omer, who had needed treatment for burns suffered in a student demonstration. Abdumawla contacted Abdelrahim Tawor, who donated money for Omer’s treatment, which apparently raised the ire of Sudanese authorities, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
Omer had been injured during a demonstration at Quran Karim University in Omdurman last year that left him with severe burns that required regular medical care, according to CSW. A senior member of the student wing of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) died when 150 NCP students attacked Darfuri students at a meeting at Sharg El Nil College in Khartoum in April 2015, CSW reported.
Since then, Darfuri students have been increasingly targeted by the NISS, which has violently suppressed peaceful student demonstrations against government repression, CSW reported. NISS is said to be staffed by hard-line Islamists with broad powers to arrest people the government deems undesirable.
Abdelrahim Tawor, along with other pastors, was arrested after attending a missions conference in Addis Abba, Ethiopia last year. Upset by the conference, NISS official interrogated Abdelrahim Tawor about accusations that those in attendance spoke of Sudan’s government persecuting Christians, a claim church leaders deny.
Shamaal, head of missions for the SCOC, was arrested on Dec.18, 2015, as was Abdelrahim Tawor. Shamaal was released on Dec. 21 but was required to report to NISS offices daily, a requirement that was removed on Jan. 16. Shamaal was re-arrested on May 25.
Most SCOC members have roots among the ethnic Nuba in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan’s South Kordofan state, where the government is fighting an insurgency. The Nuba along with other Christians in Sudan face discrimination, as President Omar al-Bashir has vowed to introduce a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and Arabic language.
The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Al-Bashir in connection with war crimes in Darfur. 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.