Photo: Coptic cathedral in Khartoum (Wikipedia)
JUBA, South Sudan (Morning Star News) – Sudanese authorities have arrested two priests of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Sudan and accused them of baptizing a convert from Islam, sources said.
As part of heightened persecution of Christians since South Sudan seceded from Sudan last year, Sudanese security forces on Dec. 16 arrested the Rev. Markus Anthony, a Sudanese citizen of Egyptian origin based in El-Haj Yousif in northern Khartoum, and the Rev. Sarbion Hussein of the Moro tribe in the Nuba mountains, sources from the Coptic Orthodox Church told Morning Star News.
“There was a Muslim woman identified as Eman, who was a student from Khartoum Applied College, who accepted the Lord two years ago but remained secret in her faith,” said a Christian lawyer by phone. “Recently Eman made a decision for baptism and was baptized by the two Coptic priests.”
Church officials later told Morning Star News the woman is Eman Abdel Shakoor, of Sudanese Arab origin.
Shakoor fled Sudan, but on Saturday (Dec. 22) the anti-Christian Arabic daily Al Intibaha reported that she had been returned to Khartoum after being stopped at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport by members of the Sudan Embassy in Ethiopia. Her fate was yet unknown at press time.
Authorities also arrested a Khartoum travel agent accused of helping Shakoor to leave Sudan without the knowledge of her Muslim family, sources said.
The priests are being detained in an unknown location, they said. Officials have denied visits from their relatives.
“They refused to inform anybody about the whereabouts of the priests,” said the lawyer, who requested anonymity.
Media criticism of the church in Khartoum has encouraged Islamic extremist groups to call for the government to more aggressively rid Sudan of Christianity, and a group called Al Qaeda in the Nilien States is threatening violence against Coptic Christians. Demanding the return of Shakoor, the group has sent a statement to local media vowing to retaliate against Copts.
The arrest marks the first time in the 23 years of the Islamic government of President Omar al-Bashir that Coptic Orthodox Church leaders have been arrested. The church, which in the 1990s supported the government in its fight against the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), now finds itself in conflict with the administration and with Islamic extremist groups.
Bashir, wanted for crimes against humanity in Darfur, has said post-secession Sudan will adhere more exclusively to Islam and Arabic culture.
Acts of Hostility
The arrests came amid damage to another church’s building, refusal to allow a denomination’s usual Christmas broadcast and the unexplained deportation of a Christian pastor and his wife, a Christian leader said.
The government damaged an Africa Inland Church building in El-Haj Yousif in northern Khartoum on Dec. 17, said the church leader, who requested anonymity.
“The members at the moment have no place to meet for prayers,” he said.
On Dec. 19, the government refused to allow the Lutheran Church of Sudan to record a Christmas message on national TV, as it traditionally has done. Church leaders arrived at the TV station to record the Christmas message, but station security personnel stopped them at reception. The Christian leaders waited for half an hour with no communication from station executives.
A station security member told the pastor the station was not aware of any plans for recording a Christmas message.
“Sorry that we do not have any application letter from the church, and moreover you do not have an invitation letter to do the Christmas program,” said the security staff member.
Church leaders maintained that they had submitted an application on Dec. 3 to air the Christmas message.
“The government is just refusing to allow us to do a Christmas program on TV, because we did follow the right procedure,” one church leader said. “This is just a polite way of putting restrictions on the church to keep her from carrying out her activities.”
On Dec. 10, a church leader identified only as Pastor Kung and his wife, Sune Kung, were deported from Sudan, he added. The government confiscated their property.
“They had a big farm with many cows and hens,” he said. “The reason for their expulsion has not been disclosed, but possibly it could be related to their Christian involvement in Sudan.”
Churches in Sudan are becoming increasingly concerned about such acts of hostility.
“These are new events of persecution that the church is facing in Sudan – we need prayers,” he said.
c. 2012 Morning Star News. Used with permission.
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Publication date: January 1, 2013