Attacked pastor in Sudan jailed for month amidst signs of religious freedom setback

Originally published in Christian Headlines

A pastor in Sudan who was attacked during worship this month was sentenced to a month in jail along with another church leader on Monday under a law against disturbing the peace, sources said.

Judge Awad Ibrahim Kury, a Muslim, found Pastor Stephanou Adil Kujo guilty of disturbing the peace under Article 69 of Sudan’s 1991 penal code and sentenced him to one month in jail beginning April 25, said the Christians’ attorney, Shanabo Awad. Ibrahim Kodi, the assailant locally known as “Banaga,” was also sentenced to a month in jail.

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During worship at the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC), an Evangelical Luthern Church in Al Hag Abdalla, about 137km southeast of Khartoum in Madani, Al Jazirah state, three Muslim extremists on April 10 disrupted worship and attacked three Christians. The assailants were led by one known as Banaga who punched Pastor Kujo, tore his shirt and assaulted two women of the congregation, Awad said. The other two assailants tore Bibles and broke chairs.

“This ruling is not fair, and my clients are innocent,” Awad told Morning Star News.

The court apparently has yet to deliver a verdict for Banaga.

The jailed Christian leaders’ church has long been harassed by Muslim extremists. Leaders of the church were detained and questioned in February after Muslim extremists upset about the presence of their worship building locked it shut on February 21. Dalman Hassan, an SCOC evangelist arrested on February 27 and released along with the church pastor later that day, said the Muslims accused church members of hostility toward Islam by holding gatherings on Fridays, the Muslim day of mosque prayer.

Following two years of advances in religious freedom in Sudan after the end of the Islamist dictatorship under former President Omar al-Bashir in 2019, the specter of state-sponsored persecution returned with a military coup on October 25 2021.

After Bashir was ousted from 30 years of power in April 2019, the transitional civilian-military government managed to undo some sharia (Islamic law) provisions. It outlawed the labelling of any religious group “infidels” and thus effectively rescinded apostasy laws that made leaving Islam punishable by death.

With the October 25 coup, Christians in Sudan fear the return of the most repressive and harsh aspects of Islamic law. Abdalla Hamdok, who had led a transitional government as prime minister starting in September 2019, was detained under house arrest for nearly a month before he was released and reinstated in a tenuous power-sharing agreement in November.

Hamdock had been faced with rooting out longstanding corruption and an Islamist “deep state” from Bashir’s regime – the same deep state that is suspected of rooting out the transitional government in the coup.

Persecution of Christians by non-state actors continued before and after the coup. In Open Doors’ 2022 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, Sudan remained at No. 13, where it ranked the previous year, as attacks by non-state actors continued and religious freedom reforms at the national level were not enacted locally.

Sudan had dropped out of the top 10 for the first time in six years when it first ranked No. 13 in the 2021 World Watch List. The US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report states that conditions have improved somewhat with the decriminalisation of apostasy and a halt to demolition of churches, but that conservative Islam still dominates society; Christians face discrimination, including problems in obtaining licenses for constructing church buildings.

The US State Department in 2019 removed Sudan from the list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) that engage in or tolerate “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom” and upgraded it to a watch list. The State Department removed Sudan from the Special Watch List in December 2020. Sudan had previously been designated as a CPC from 1999 to 2018.

The Christian population of Sudan is estimated at 2 million, or 4.5% of the total population of more than 43 million.

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