(Morning Star News) – Officials in Sudan are delaying a verdict in the trial of two pastors and two others because evidence is insufficient for conviction and they do not want to release them, sources told Morning Star News.
The Rev. Kwa (also transliterated Kuwa) Shamaal, head of Missions of the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC), and the Rev. Hassan Abdelrahim Tawor were arrested from their homes on Dec. 18, 2015. They are charged with crimes, some punishable by death, that range from spying to inciting hatred against the government.
The case has been marked by postponements and judges who were said to be out of the country when court hearings were scheduled, according to advocacy groups. One Khartoum church leader, unnamed for security reasons, told Morning Star News the government is delaying the acquittal and release of the two pastors and two others due to Islamist pressures within the country.
“There is nothing serious in the case up to this point,” he said. “They have brought more than three witnesses, and there is still not any evidence.”
After the two pastors’ arrest a year ago, Shamaal was released on Dec. 21, 2015 but was required to report daily to the offices of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), a requirement that was removed on Jan. 16. He was re-arrested on May 25.
Shamaal and Abdelrahim Tawor are charged with trying to tarnish the image of Sudan’s government by collecting information on persecution of Christians and 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).
Similarly charged are Czech aid worker Petr Jasek and Abdulmonem Abdumawla of Darfur. Abdumawla, who initially said he was Muslim but later admitted he was Christian, was arrested in December 2015 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.
Pastor Abdelrahim Tawor, along with other pastors, was arrested after attending a missions conference in Addis Abba, Ethiopia in October 2015. 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.
Prosecutors have charged Czech aid worker Jasek, also arrested in December 2015, with “tarnishing Sudan’s image” by documenting persecution. He is also charged with waging war against the state, reportedly based on an accusation that he gave money to “some individuals” in South Kordofan in 2012, allegedly including some rebel fighters.
At one hearing, NISS official Abbas el Tahir accused the defendants of conducting “hostile activities against the state that threaten the national and social security” in Sudan, according to Netherlands-based Radio Dabanga.
“Since 2012, we banned organizations or individuals working against Sudan,” El Tahir reportedly said. “However, these NGOs still work and plan to threaten the national security and harm the society’s interest.”
He accused aid organizations of publishing false reports against Sudan.
Defense attorney Muhanad Nur told Morning Star News that the charges against the Christians are baseless.
“Statements of the prosecutor indicate that there were no bases for all the charges brought against them,” he said.
Sources said police are not only prohibiting family members from visiting the jailed Christians but harassing them when they try to do so.
Foreign diplomats and international rights activists have taken notice of the case since Morning Star News broke the story of the arrest of two pastors in December 2015. Their arrest is seen as part of a recent upsurge in harassment of Christians.
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.