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14 March 2013

Sudanese Christians face persecution under “100 per cent Islamic” constitution

Sudanese Christians face persecution under “100 per cent Islamic” constitution

On 9 July 2011 Sudan and South Sudan became individual nations, following an overwhelming majority of Southerners (98.9 per cent) voting to secede from the north. This has led to the separation of the largely black African Christian south from the predominantly Arab Muslim north. Christians in Sudan face persecution and marginalisation, with Islamist ideology enforced through religiously-based morality laws and corporal punishment. In 2011 alone nearly 170 people were imprisoned and charged with apostasy.

Two days before South Sudan's independence President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan made it clear that he would oversee a new constitution that would be "100 per cent Islamica template to those around us." In October 2011 he continued "Ninety eight percent of the (Sudanese) people are Muslims and the new constitution will reflect this. The official religion will be Islam and Islamic law the main source." There are concerns that Sudan's "multi-religious" nature will no longer be recognised, and that this description will be removed from Article One of Sudan's constitution.

The fears of Christians in Sudan following this speech are being realised, with reports of a systematic campaign to eradicate Christianity in the country. Christians have been arrested, foreign Christian workers deported, churches demolished and Christian institutions closed. Seven churches in the Khartoum area were destroyed in just two days in mid-January. A pastor of one of these churches said: "The government says the land was owned by some businessman, but I think they destroyed our church because they want to target Christians."

Alliance member Release International reported that the Sudan Pentecostal Church in Soba Al Aradi was demolished by officials on 2 January without warning, with its South Sudanese members "no longer considered citizens of Sudan". Churches in Sudan have seen decreasing numbers attend as many South Sudanese return home, and since 2005 only three churches have been given building permits by the state. The Evangelical Literature Centre had its books, films and archives seized on 18 February this year, and a Khartoum Christian primary school has been ordered to close in April for failing to separate male and female students and teach Islamic studies.

Conversion is a crime punishable by death, and media reports have fuelled suspicions of "Christianisation", with stories that foreign missionaries are planning to convert Muslims. Two South Sudanese pastors in Khartoum who baptised a woman of Muslim background were arrested in December 2012. Alliance member CSW reported that in February at least 55 Sudanese Christians were detained for approximately two weeks without charge, falsely accused of receiving money from abroad.

CSW's advocacy director Andrew Johnston said"CSW is deeply concerned at these arbitrary arrests and news of an escalating crackdown on Christian citizens in Sudan. We urge the Sudanese government to release these prisoners and end its campaign of harassment against the Christian community. We also urge the government once again to undertake broad consultations during the drafting of the new constitution and to ensure that it recognises the rights of all Sudanese citizens, to freedom of religion or belief, as outlined in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Sudan is a signatory".

A large Christian population lives in Sudan's Nuba mountains where bombing raids over Christmas 2012 killed at least 11 Christians, including six children. Many, including the black African Nuba people, disagree that these attacks were targeting Sudan People's Liberation Movement. They instead believe that this is evidence of a campaign to rid Sudan of Christians and non-Arabs.

Opposition to the Sudanese regime does exist, with The New Dawn Charter signed in Kampala on 5 January. This describes a vision of a democratic Sudan recognising and respecting religious difference. These calls for regime change were furiously received by the Sudanese government, who arrested six politicians involved.

Alliance member Open Doors is focusing on training leaders in Sudan, particularly using their Standing Strong Through the Storm (SSTS) seminars which bring Christians of different churches and denominations together. These seminars provide strategic biblical foundations equipping Christians to understand and live out their faith while facing persecution, discrimination and marginalisation.

A leader in Southern Kordofan, Sudan, recently said: "Your prayers are important, especially during these days... We have nothing to offer you, but I know God in heaven will reward you".

Please pray:

  • for protection, strength and wisdom for Christians facing marginalisation and persecution in Sudan;
  • for Open Doors and other organisations training leaders in Sudan;
  • for change to Sudan's regime, and for the new constitution to recognise and protect religious diversity.